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The MIRACLE project – mediating integrated actions for sustainable ecosystems services in a changing climate – aimed to identify how governance can reduce nutrient enrichment and flood risks in the Baltic Sea Region.

A Polish fishing port in the Baltic Sea Region

A Polish fishing port in the Baltic Sea Region. Photo: HansJoachim / Getty Images.

Inactive project


Project contact

Olle Olsson

The objective of MIRACLE was to identify integrated, novel approaches to governance. The work was based on innovative actions and plans offering ecosystem service benefits to diverse stakeholders.

A social learning process was developed with an interactive visualisation platform that made it possible for stakeholders to conceptualise complex interactions. The visualisation tool supported stakeholder meetings and workshops.

One of the problems that was identified as particularly important in stakeholder consultations held in the Swedish case study in MIRACLE was brownification. This is an issue that up until recently has received relatively little attention, but this is now changing.

Researchers gather to discuss how to address brown water

Lakes and streams in Sweden are becoming increasingly brown. This is not only a problem for aesthetic reasons but it also leads to increased costs for water treatment and leads to the habitat degradation for many aquatic species.  However, the exact mechanisms behind the brownification and the consequences are not yet fully understood. A combination of factors – climate change, recovery from acidification and an ever-increasing proportion of spruce in the forest landscape – is suspected to be contributing, but a lot is still uncertain.

Brownification is particularly evident in Helge Å in northern Skåne. It is suspected that the increasingly brown water can be one of the reasons behind water quality problems in Hanö Bay, where Helge Å empties out. Therefore, Region Skåne’s Environmental Protection Fund finances an ongoing project that tries to clarify what we know about brownification. The project, led by the platform Helge Å Model Forest, will try to identify knowledge gaps and necessary concrete measures within the landscape to pinpoint processes leading to brownification.

SEI hosted a brownification workshop during the spring of 2018, organized together with Lund’s University and Helge Å Model Forest. During the workshop, the researchers and other stakeholders exchanged ideas about which chemical and hydrological processes that lead to brownification, but also about how brown water makes it difficult and more expensive to produce drinking water.

The goal is to map what we know and don’t know about brownification and how we can put a stop to it, says Olle Olsson, Research Fellow at Stockholm Environment Institute.

In addition to the workshop, a two-day writeshop was held as a first step in the preparation of a scientific synthesis article. In order to further increase knowledge and discuss next steps, a conference will be held in Kristianstad on 13 February 2019, hosted by Helge Å Model Forest.

Quick Facts

Q: What is the problem and what are the causes of brownification?

A: The browning of lakes and streams in Sweden and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere is drastically increasing. This is caused by the high concentration of dissolved organic material and iron in the water. This causes problems in drinking water production since the brownification increases cost and the risk for toxic substances. Brown water in our lakes and streams is also negative for recreation and tourism as well as for bio-diversity. The increasing prevalence of brown water is caused by a combination of climate change (longer  growing season and more precipitation), slow recovery from acidification (organic material less mobile at low ph-levels) and altered land use, in particular an increasing dominance of spruce trees.

Q: What is the purpose of the initiative?

A: The purpose was to gather researchers and other stakeholders to focus on what we know and don’t know as well as understand what we need to find out about causes and consequences with a vision to find solutions to combat brownification.

Q: What will this result in?

A: The workshop kicked off work which will result in a scientific synthesis article targeted to researchers and other interested stakeholders. Based on the article, a conference will be held in the middle of February, which will hopefully lead to further research which can better answer questions on solutions and in the end, improved processes for better water quality.

Q: How can brownification be solved?

A: Climate change and sulfur fallout is beyond our regional control. This means that particular focus should be directed towards landscape changes that could influence the events/processes causing brownification.


Kristianstad seen from Helge Å. Photo: Kristianstad Municipality/Flickr.

Project team

Karin André
Karin André

Team Leader: Cities, Communities and Consumption; Senior Research Fellow

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