Modelling critical levels of ozone for the forested area of Austria. Modifications of the AOT40 concept

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2004;11(3):171-80. doi: 10.1007/BF02979672.


Goal, scope and background: Ozone is the most important air pollutant in Europe for forest ecosystems and the increase in the last decades is significant. The ozone impact on forests can be calculated and mapped based on the provisional European Critical Level (AOT40 = accumulated exposure over a threshold of 40 ppb, 10,000 ppb x h for 6 months of one growing season calculated for 24 h day(-1)). For Norway spruce, the Austrian main tree species, the ozone risk was assessed in a basis approach and because the calculations do not reflect the health status of forests in Austria, the AOT40 concept was developed.

Methods: Three approaches were outlined and maps were generated for Norway spruce forests covering the entire area of Austria. The 1st approach modifies the AOT40 due to the assumption that forests have adapted to the pre-industrial levels of ozone, which increase with altitude (AOTalt). The 2nd approach modifies the AOT40 according to the ozone concentration in the sub-stomata cavity. This approach is based on such factors as light intensity and water vapour saturation deficit, which affect stomatal uptake (AOTsto). The 3rd approach combines both approaches and includes the hemeroby. The pre-industrial ozone level approach was applied for autochthonous ('natural') forest areas, the ozone-uptake approach for non-autochthonous ('altered') forest areas.

Results and discussion: The provisional Critical Level (AOT40) was established to allow a uniform assessment of the ozone risk for forested areas in Europe. In Austria, where ozone risk is assessed with utmost accuracy due to the dense grid of monitoring plots of the Forest Inventory and because the continuously collected data from more than 100 air quality measuring stations, an exceedance up to the five fold of the Critical Level was found. The result could lead to a yield loss of up to 30-40% and to a severe deterioration in the forest health status. However, the data of the Austrian Forest Inventory and the Austrian Forest Damage Monitoring System do not reflect such an ozone impact. Therefore, various approaches were outlined including the tolerance and avoidance mechanisms of Norway spruce against ozone impact. Taking into consideration the adaptation of forests to the pre-industrial background level of ozone, the AOT40 exceedances are markedly reduced (1st approach). Taking into account the stomatal uptake of ozone, unrealistic high amounts of exceedances up to 10,000 ppb x h were found. The modelled risk does not correspond with the health status and the wood increment of the Austrian forests (2nd approach). Consolidating the forgoing two approaches, a final map including the hemeroby was generated. It became clear that the less natural ('altered') forested regions are highly polluted. This means, that more than half of the spruce forests are endangered by ozone impact and AOT40 values of up to 30,000 ppb x h occur (3rd approach).

Conclusions: The approaches revealed that a plausible result concerning the ozone impact on spruce forests in Austria could only be reached by combining pre-industrial ozone levels, ozone flux into the spruce needles and the hemeroby of forests.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Altitude
  • Austria
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Meteorological Concepts
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Oxidants, Photochemical / analysis
  • Oxidants, Photochemical / toxicity
  • Ozone / analysis*
  • Ozone / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Trees / growth & development
  • Trees / metabolism
  • Trees / physiology*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Oxidants, Photochemical
  • Ozone