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Quality of European aquatic ecosystems
Determining the ecological status of EU waters

The IES seeks to provide the crucial link between science and water policy, developing and harmonising indicators for water ecological assessment and developing concepts for the sustainable use of water resources.

Doonlake by D.McInerney


Good environmental and ecological status

The aim of the European Union's Water Framework Directive (WFD) is to more effectively protect the aquatic environment across Europe. It aims to achieve at least “good ecological status”, defined as a slight deviation from natural background conditions. The IES has played a leading role in harmonising ecological quality targets’ across Europe. Following an unprecedented effort involving hundreds of scientists and government experts, the first results of the intercalibration exercise were formally published as a Commission Decision in 2008. The work is still ongoing and a second wave of results will be published by the Commission in 2012. These will include ecological quality targets for all the relevant water ecosystems components, covering all water body types and regions of Europe.

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), adopted in July 2008, has a similar objective – it aims to achieve ‘good environmental status’ by 2020. Recently, the IES and the ICES (International Council for Exploration of the Seas) collaborated on the co-ordination of Task Groups to provide DG Environment with technical/ scientific advice for the development of a common European methodological approach for determining the main aspects of ‘good environmental status’, including biodiversity, food web integrity, non-indigenous species, eutrophication and chemicals. The main outcome published in 2010 was the basis for a Commission Decision on criteria and methodological standards to determine ‘good environmental status’.

The IES has developed two eutrophication indices which allow the assessment of the coastal and marine ecosystem's status and physical sensitivity to eutrophication. Excessive loads of nutrients can cause eutrophication - algae growth and oxygen depletion, which damage the equilibrium of the ecosystems. The methodology developed for these spatial indices supports a harmonised assessment of coastal/marine ecosystems in different climatic zones and with different physical conditions (e.g. North Sea and Adriatic Sea) and allows the comparison of different eutrophication types and intensity and their evolution over time.


Eutrophying lake by A-M.Petrescu


Moreover, through modelling studies, the IES investigates the contribution of various sectoral activities (such as agriculture, industry, wastewater treatment) to nutrients (phosphates and nitrogen) entering European freshwaters. In an attempt to alleviate the pressures on freshwater ecosystems and European seas, the IES assesses the effectiveness of the different Directives in controlling nutrient loads originating from human activities. The results and further data and results are available through the FATE website.


An Environmental Marine Information System

An Environmental Marine Information System (EMIS) maintained and further developed by IESprovides onlinescientific information by way of geo-referenced maps (created in real-time), and supplies the user with basic navigation and interrogation tools.

The IES is working on providing guidance for monitoring the marine environment under the MSFD and co-coordinates a technical sub-group with the scope of guiding the monitoring and indicator development for assessment of marine litter.



  • Bouraoui F., Grizzetti B., Aloe A. (2009). Nutrient discharge from river to seas for year 2000. EUR 24002 EN. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.
  • Carletti A.,  Heiskanen A.-S.  (eds.) (2009). Water Framework Directive intercalibration technical report – Part 3: Coastal and Transitional Waters. EUR 28838 EN/3. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.
  • Grizzetti B., Bouraoui F., Billen G., van Grinsven H., Cardoso A.C., Thieu V., Garnier J., Curtis C., Howarth R., Johnes P. (2011). Nitrogen as a threat to European water quality. In: The European nitrogen assessment, ed. Sutton M.A., Howard C.M., erisman J.W., Billen G., Bleeker A., Grennfelt P., van Grinsven H., Grizzetti B. Published by Cambridge University Press.
  • Hering D., Borja A., Carstensen J., Carvalho L., Elliott M., Feld C., Heiskanen A-S., Johnson R., Moe J., Pont D., Lyche Solheim A., Van De Bund W., (2010). The European Water Framework Directive at the Age of 10: A Critical Review of the Achievements with Recommendations for the Future.  Science of the Total Environment. Volume 408, Issue 19. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.05.031.
  • Noges P., Van de Bund W., Cardoso A.C., Solimini A., Heiskanen A.-S. (2009): Assessment of the ecological status of European surface waters: a work in progress. Hydrobiologia 633: 197-211.
    Piha H., Zampoukas, N. (2011). review of methodological standards related to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive criteria on Good Environmental Status. EUR 24743 EN. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.
  • Poikane S. (ed.) (2009): Water Framework Directive intercalibration technical report – Part 2: Lakes. EUR 28838 EN/2. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.
  • Poikane S., Alves M.H., Argillier C., van den Berg M., Buzzi F., Hoehn E., de Hoyos C., Karottki I., Laplace-Treyture C., Solheim A.L., Ortiz-Casas J., Ott I., Phillips G., Pike A., Padua J., Remec-Rekar S., Riedmuller U., Shaumburg J., Serrano M.L., Sozka H., Tierney D., Urbanic G., Wolfram G. (2010). Defining Chlorophyll-a reference conditions in European lakes. Environment Management. Volume 45. DOI 10.1007/s00267-0109484-4.
  • Van de Bund, W. (ed.) (2009). Water Framework Directive intercalibration technical report – Part 1: Rivers. EUR 28838 EN/1. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.


Contact Info:

Ana Cristina Cardoso - Tel: +39-0332-785702 E-mail: ana-cristina.cardoso(at)
Nicolas Hoepffner - Tel: + 39-0332-789873 E-mail: Nicolas.hoepffner(at)
Wouter  van de Bund - Tel: +(39) 0332 789955 E-mail: wouter.van-de-bund(at)
Faycal Bouraoui – Tel: +(39) 0332 785173 E-mail:faycal.bouraoui(at)

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