Research ensures responsible use of Finland's water resources in the future.
Water related research and development is critical for Finland, a country with abundant water resources. Due to eastern Finland particularly having considerable freshwater reserves, the sustainable use of the water resources – covering human activities directly utilizing or otherwise reliant on them – will be critical going forward. Furthermore, the effects of climate change on the global water cycle bring challenges that water research aims to address.
Together with the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation and the OLVI Foundation, the Saastamoinen Foundation supports the University of Eastern Finland's project ”Water environment as an accelerator of prosperity and well-being in Eastern Finland”. The project has been granted €4.55 million for the period 2019–2024.
The project brings together the expertise of the University of Eastern Finland’s researchers from Kuopio and Joensuu campuses and opens new avenues for water research by enhancing the multidisciplinary aspect of the research. The water community is a multidisciplinary group with the ability to respond to systemic societal challenges related to water. Through research, education and influencing policy and legislation, among other things, the aim is to ensure that clean drinking water, healthy natural waters, and water sources will also be available in Finland and globally in the future.
According to Professor Jussi Kukkonen, the director of the project: "Our research programme is an ambitious but realistic entity that further strengthens the quality, both regional and international impact, of research related to water and the aquatic environment at the University of Eastern Finland. Our group places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research collaboration, and we are Finland's most interdisciplinary community for water research. In order to create a sufficiently large consortium, cooperation with other local actors in Kuopio and Joensuu, such as academic institutions, research institutes, and businesses, is crucial.”
Additionally, the project establishes, within ten years, an interdisciplinary open innovation ecosystem that brings together the most significant stakeholders and institutions to form Finland's most prestigious research institution for water-related research. Partners of the University of Eastern Finland include Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, the Finnish Food Authority, Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Geological Survey of Finland, and Savonia and Karelia University of Applied Sciences. Joining forces of these actors, the established Kuopio Water Cluster also contains several dozen firms as members. Water treatment technologies, freshwater ecosystems, and water law and policy are among the research fields being studied by the 60 researchers (including some 20 professors and PIs), who make up the University of Eastern Finland's water research community.
Important research results with collaboration
The transport of nano-sized plastic particles from contaminated soil to plants, larvae, and finally to fish was the subject of a Nano Today article, written by researchers from the water research community in collaboration with other UEF experts. This publication received a lot of media coverage both domestically and abroad. Additionally, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland released a thorough review study on the phenomenon known as "water brownification", which occurs when organic carbon accumulates in water bodies and causes the water to become browner in color. Brownification is mostly caused by changing climate, the usage of peatlands for forestry, agriculture, and the production of peat. Currently, there are no adequate means in Finland to control the brownification process.
Researchers from the water research community are doing research on the restoration of rivers dammed for hydropower production in collaboration with the Finnish Environment Institute and Natural Resources Institute Finland. In 2022, experts advocated updating Finland's hydropower policy to suit modern environmental standards. The hydroelectric power plants were classified depending on whether they should be accompanied by fish routes or other technological steps to reduce current water pollution, or whether it would be justified to abandon (small) hydroelectric power plants entirely.
UEF//Water researchers are also coordinating and co-authoring a governance framework for a blue transition in Finland (TRAGORA) under the STN-funded BlueAdapt project. The work analyses EU and Finnish policies and legislation to uncover policy lock-ins and transformative policy changes for reaching good status of waters and supporting economic activities that rely on waters and water resources.
Similar investigations employing innovative study methodologies and sites are critical components of the water research initiative. New information and experience for water research will be developed through international cooperation, which will benefit the research and its outcomes beyond Finland's boundaries.
Photo: Kimmo Syväri