HELCOM Phytoplankton Expert Group (HELCOM PEG)

quality assurance of phytoplankton monitoring in the Baltic Sea (PEG QA)




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

  • Maintaining annual training courses (workshop)

  • Maintaining the phytoplankton biovolume list

  • Intercalibrations

  • Maintaining the HELCOM Monitoring guidelines for Phytoplankton - Species composition, abundance and biomass (currently Combine manual Annex C-6).

  • HELCOM PEG will serve as a forum for:

    • discussion and review of phytoplankton indicators developed by Lead Countries and to dedicate part of annual meetings to this objective,

    • commenting the HELCOM phytoplankton indicator reports and indicator evaluations for use in HELCOM assessments,

    • supporting the definition of data requirements for phytoplankton indicators and an appropriate data reporting format to ensure that the COMBINE database hosted by ICES provides the data needs for HELCOM phytoplankton indicators,

    • comparing the HELCOM core indicators with OSPAR indicator work after HOLAS II.


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 activities within the project will be carried out at the annual workshops. Intersessional activities will be organized if needed. The following types of activities are planned:


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 in order to keep the PEG Phytoplankton list up to date.


To 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 HELCOM monitoring manual for phytoplankton species composition, abundance and biomass.

Revision of the biovolume file

To add new species and size classes when necessary; to update the biovolume file according to recent taxonomical changes in co-operation with ICES Data Centre.

Production of environmental fact sheets

Platform for phytoplankton indicators


Updating and production of environmental fact sheets to track changes in phytoplankton community structure.

The project will serve as a forum for discussion of phytoplankton indicators being developed in HELCOM and review the results of the indicator evaluations of the HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS II) to be finalized 2017-2018.

At the training courses it is planned to consider:

  1. Identification of phytoplankton species;

  2. Maintaining and upgrading of the expertise for identification of alien species;

  3. Making representative and validated images of the Baltic Sea phytoplankton species public in the HELCOM PEG image gallery at, www.Nordicmicroalgae.org.

Intercalibrations and further unifying the counting method includes:

Interlaboratory intercalibration and checking the general methodology, species identification, counting strategy, biovolume estimation etc.

For the professional planning and statistical evaluation of the intercalibration, an expert with a short-term contract has to be employed (approximately 3 months)

The venue of the workshops will be circulated between the Contracting Parties and their marine laboratories. Suggested host countries are: Russia in 2017, Sweden in 2018 and Latvia in 2019.

The project period is three years. Ms. Iveta Jurgensone, Latvia, will be the convener during 2017-2019.

Expected outcomes

The outcome of the project will be:

  1. Annual reports from the 3 workshops to HELCOM State and Conservation;

  2. Annually revised species/biovolume list of Baltic Sea phytoplankton species;

  3. Updated HELCOM Monitoring manual for Phytoplankton - Species composition, abundance and biomass;

  4. Review the indicator evaluations for phytoplankton

  5. Intercalibration report to HELCOM/ICES;

  6. Updated environmental fact sheet;

  7. Continuation of contribution of quality-checked images to the HELCOM PEG image gallery at, www.Nordicmicroalgae.org;

  8. Final report (2017-2019).

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 2017-2019 as a continuation to the ongoing HELCOM PEG project for 2014-2016. More specific timetable:

Regular tasks will be discussed during all workshops, especially:

  • discussion on new species and size classes that have occurred in the previous year's samples including

    non-indigenous species

  • discussion of new environmental fact sheets and updating of the existing one

  • harmonization of species identification by common microscoping of samples from the Baltic Sea

  • harmonization of analyzing methods by discussing the methodology and committing intercalibrations

  • 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 e.g. the development of phytoplankton indicators, meetings and conferences.

  • review of phytoplankton indicators being developed by Lead Countries.

Specific tasks for the separate workshops are:

Workshop 2017:

A training course on cyanobacteria, teacher will be decided in 2017;

Planning of the next intercalibration;

The workshop will be held in St.Peterburg, Russia.

Workshop 2018:

A training course on diatom resting spores and dinoflagellate cysts, Anna Godhe Sweden;

Planning the next project (2020-2022).

The workshop was held in Sweden.

The outcome of the workshop is available via this link.


Workshop 2019:

Presentation of the results from the intercalibration;

A training course on diatoms, teacher will be decided in 2018

The workshop will be held in Latvia.

Specific tasks to support the development and evaluation of phytoplankton indicators:

2017: Comment on phytoplankton indicator analyses made for the HOLAS II report and indicator evaluations on phytoplankton by February 2017.

2018: Comment on phytoplankton indicator reports and indicator evaluations according to deadlines agreed in the HOLAS II project.

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:

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

  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Sweden

For more information, please contact:

Ms. Iveta Jurgensone (Chair)
Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology
Department of Marine Monitoring
Voleru iela 4
Riga, LV-1007, LATVIA
Tel.: +371 67601995
Fax: +371 67601995

Ms. Jannica Haldin 
Professional Secretary​
(Gear, State and Conservation
Tel: +358 40 485 5905​