HELCOM Phytoplankton Expert Group (HELCOM PEG)

quality assurance of phytoplankton monitoring in the Baltic Sea in 2014-2016



The main target of the project is to ensure and maintain high quality standard of the international Baltic regional phytoplankton monitoring within the HELCOM COMBINE Programme. This should be achieved by:

  • Maintaining annual training courses (workshop)
  • Maintaining the phytoplankton biovolume list
  • Intercalibrations


Quality assurance of data is an important component of the HELCOM monitoring programme, and measures were early taken to evaluate and improve the recommended methods through intercalibrations between the different partners. In 1991 HELCOM PEG was established, with the main aim to unify methods of collection, counting and identification of phytoplankton species. Since accurate biomass estimates are important in phytoplankton monitoring, PEG has also made considerable efforts to standardise size-classes and biovolumes of phytoplankton species found in the Baltic Sea. The use of a standardised species list with fixed size-classes and biovolumes is a decisive measure to improve the quality of the phytoplankton counting method and the comparability of results.


The main activity within the project will be carried out at the annual workshops. The following types of activities are planned:

Activity   Aim 
Training courses   To maintain continuity and high quality in phytoplankton identification and quantification, in particular because a new generation of phytoplankton researchers and analysts are currently joining the PEG;
To follow recent changes in taxonomy of problematic and important phytoplankton groups, including the indicator species, in order to keep the PEG Phytoplankton list up to date.
IntercalibrationsTo keep the high standard of phytoplankton monitoring in the Baltic Sea, to assure the comparability of results
Further unifying the counting method    To continuously update the phytoplankton monitoring manual within COMBINE   
Revision of the biovolume file   To add new species and size classes when necessary; to link invalid synonyms and valid species names in co-operation with ICES Data Centre   
Production of indicator fact sheetsTo track changes in proportions of different phytoplankton groups over time; to assist in development of reference conditions based on species composition   


At the training courses it is planned to consider:

  1. Identification of problematic phytoplankton species;
  2. Maintaining and upgrading of the expertise for identification of alien species
  3. Making representative and validated images of the Baltic phytoplankton species public in the image gallery Nordicmicroalgae.org.

Intercalibrations and further unifying the counting method includes:

  1. Interlaboratory intercalibration and checking the general methodology, especially the influence of variations in counting procedure (influence of chamber volume, counting strategy etc.);
  2. For the professional planning and statistical evaluation of the intercalibration, an expert with a short-term contract has to be employed (approximately 2 months)

The venue of the workshops will be circulated between the Contracting Parties and their marine laboratories. Suggested host countries are: Finland in 2014, Estonia in 2015 and Germany or Sweden in 2016.

The project period is three years. Ms. Iveta Jurgensone, Latvia, will be the convener during 2014-2016.

Expected outcomes

The outcome of the project will be:

  1. Annual reports from the 3 workshops to HELCOM MONAS;
  2. Annual revised species/biovolume list of Baltic phytoplankton species;
  3. Intercalibration report to HELCOM/ICES;
  4. Updated and new indicator fact sheets;
  5. Continuation of contribution quality-checked imagines to the image gallery Nordicmicroalgae.org;
  6. Final report (2014-2016).​

Consistency with HELCOM priorities

In this project the HELCOM priorities are met by assuring that the quality of the phytoplankton data is high enough to evaluate effects of eutrophication, changes in biodiversity and long-term trends. This data is for example crucial for the work with the EU Water Frame Directive.


The project will be carried out in 2014-2016 as continuation to the ongoing HELCOM PEG project for 2011-2013. More specific timetable:

Regular tasks will be discussed during all workshops, especially:

  • discussion on new species and size classes that has occurred in last year samples
  • discussion on preparation of new and updating of existing factsheets
  • information on recent changes in taxonomy of planktonic microalgae
  • new images to add to the phytoplankton image gallery
  • information on new relevant literature, projects about for example the development of indicators, meetings and conferences.

Specific tasks for the separate workshops are:

Workshop 2014

  1. A training course on North Baltic Sea phytoplankton will be given by Ms. Heidi Hällfors and Ms. Anke Kremp, Finland;
  2. Planning of the next intercalibration (if not agreed in 2013);
  3. Discussion on data quality and development of the database with expert from the ICES Data Centre.

The workshop will be held in Finland.

Workshop 2015

  1. A training course on freshwater phytoplankton will be given by Mr. Marko Järvinen, Finland;
  2. Planning the next project (2017-2019).

The workshop will be held in Estonia.

Workshop 2016

  1. Presentation of the results from the intercalibration;
  2. A training course on Dinoflagellates (will be decided in 2015)

The workshop will be held in Germany or Sweden.   

Useful links to the products of HELCOM PEG

Biovolume file, with biovolumes and fixed size-classes used for the calculation of phytoplankton biomass in routine monitoring of Baltic Sea phytoplankton (updated 2013). For geometrical shapes used, see Olenina et al 2006. Note that the above Excel-file of biovolumes should be used both for species and biovolume list in routine monitoring of Baltic Sea phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton sampling and analysis is carried out according to the Phytoplankton monitoring manual within the HELCOM COMBINE.

View HELCOM phytoplankton sampling stations via an interactive data and map service.

Protocols of PEG meetings

HELCOM Baltic Sea environment fact sheets and reports about phytoplankton, produced by PEG:

Cyanobacteria biomass indicator (Baltic Sea Environment Fact Sheet 2013, 2012 and 2011)

An unusual phytoplankton event five years later: the fate of the atypical range expansion of marine species into the south eastern Baltic (HELCOM Baltic Sea Environment Fact Sheet 2010)

Impact of invasive phytoplankton species on the Baltic Sea ecosystem 1980-2008 (HELCOM Baltic Sea Environment Fact Sheet 2009)

Unusual phytoplankton event during winter-spring 2007-2008 (Baltic Sea Environment Fact Sheet 2008)

Cyanobacteria bloom index (Baltic Sea Environment Fact Sheet 2008)

Shifts in the Baltic Sea summer phytoplankton communities in 1992-2006 (HELCOM Indicator Fact Sheet 2007)

Checklist of Baltic Sea Phytoplankton Species (Hällfors 2004). Species reported from the Baltic Sea until 2004.

Image gallery of Baltic phytoplankton species

HELCOM PEG image gallery at the Nordic Microalgae web site

IOW-photo gallery of phytoplankton

Baltic Sea Portal – Photos of Baltic Sea Phytoplankton

Checklist of phytoplankton in the Skagerrak-Kattegat

Polish image gallery

Other useful links to phytoplankton web sites

On-line database on cyanobacterial genera

Dinoflagellates – Centers of Excellence for Dinophyte Taxonomy

Plankton net

Contracting Parties and laboratories










For more information, please contact:

Ms. Iveta Jurgensone (Chair)
Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology
Daugavgrivas 8
LV-1048 Riga, Latvia
Tel: +371 67610850


Ms. Ulla Li Zweifel

Professional Secretary 

(Gear WG, State and Conservation WG)

Tel: +358 46 850 9198  ​

Skype: helcom64