General ecosystem-based methodology to improve reliability of environmental risk assessment


Ville Kangasniemi ja Ari T. K. Ikonen

Environmental Research and Assessment EnviroCase, Ltd.


Key challenges in ecological risk assessment are inconsistent and heterogeneous input data, which complicates reconciliation of the outcome and decreases reliability of the modelling. To allow consistent system description and datasets, a general methodology is presented here.


The first step is to tie the area of concern into a geographic information system with defined boundaries. Relevant open-source and other available data are identified and collated, possibly employing new remote sensing campaigns (from small unmanned aerial vehicles to satellites, depending on the appropriate scale). Based on the framework, key features and their commonalities are identified, which are then used to classify of physical media (soil and sediments) and the associated biological communities (biocoenoses/biotopes) into types which can be reliably identified in the assessment and which can be populated with appropriate datasets.


Ecological models specific to the biotopes are then created by utilising well-established literature and the required parameter data is amended with supporting field studies where needed. This step reveals the key functions of the ecosystem and helps to detect most central aspect for further development in the work.


Finally, the assumptions, uncertainties and reliability of the modelling are systematically analysed (Knowledge Quality Assessment), and the overall process is iterated until sufficient confidence in the assessment and its outcome is achieved.


With the described framework, for example, transport and accumulation of contaminants in the ecosystem and the subsequent exposure of humans and other biota can be reliably assessed.