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Published: 03 Aug, 2022

The Environmental Archaeological Lab takes over pollen measurements in Umeå

NEWS Under the direction of the Swedish Museum of Natural History there are 20 measuring stations in various locations in Sweden that measure the pollen content in the air. The Environmental Archaeological Lab at Umeå University is now taking over responsibility for local pollen measurements in Umeå.

Text: Ingrid Söderbergh

Samples are always taken early in the morning and reported to the Swedish Museum of Natural History at 9 o'clock, after which they can compile a national forecast that is posted on the web portal Pollenrapporten.se.

With the help of the measurements, national forecasts for the pollen season are made, which is valuable for the roughly three million Swedes who suffer from pollen allergies. The reason why the pollen measurements in Umeå being placed at the Environmental Archeological Lab is that the laboratory conducts commissioned research in environmental archaeology where pollen analysis is one of many important methods used to study vegetation history throughout history.

Former pollen reporter retired

“There is a connection to the former pollen reporter, Jan-Erik Wallin, who has been associated with us for a very long time and when he is now retiring it was appropriate to transfer the activity to us,” says Johan Linderholm, associate professor at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Umeå University and the one director of the Environmental Archeological Lab.

“For us, it will be a way to secure long-term competence in palynology both for the laboratory and to be able to maintain pollen forecasts with Norrland as a starting point. When working with climate change issues, the changes we can observe in the present become important to understand what has been and also to be able to predict what will happen, continues Philip Buckland, associate professor at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Umeå University and the second director for the Environmental Archeological Lab.

Designed course for pollen analysis

Natuschka Lee, researcher at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at Umeå University is also involved in the project with her expertise in pollination ecology and microbiology. Last autumn, she completed a European allergy and fungus identification course in Belgium at the European Aerobiology Society, the European allergy pollen organization.

The Swedish Museum of Natural History then offered to put together a special course at Umeå University for all those interested who did not have the opportunity to attend this course. The course leader was Björn Gedda, curator at the Palynological Laboratory at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.

As a transitional solution during the first year, three co-workers with good experience in microscopy of biological samples: Christos Katrantsiotis, postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Philippe Simon, master's student in biology, and Natuschka Lee will now form a team that will share the pollen analyses in a rotating schedule.

“It is important to be several people to be able to guarantee a continuous daily analysis. Samples are always taken early in the morning and reported to the Swedish Museum of Natural History at 9 o'clock, after which they can compile a national forecast that is posted on the web portal Pollenrapporten.se. Here you can follow the daily development of pollen throughout Sweden,” says Natuschka Lee.

After careful preparation, a pollen trap is now placed on the roof of the Social Science Building at Umeå University approximately 15 meters above the ground and the measurements on a daily basis have started. Samples from the air are collected on a special type of tape that is attached on a rotating reel on the trap. This tape is used to make special preparations for microscopy – then just to analyse it with a microscope that works up to 400x magnification.

Pollen season from March to October

In Central Europe, pollen measurements start as early as January, while in Sweden they start later. In Umeå, it is advisable to start measuring in the latter part of March. The analyses then continue until late autumn – depending on when the snow and cold come.

“Last week, Björn Gedda payed a visit to us again together with colleague Agneta Ekebom to investigate whether the pollen trap has been set up properly and that we have started the measurements in the right way. He seemed pleased that we have finally started!,” says Natuschka Lee.

Pollen measurements are carried out on behalf of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in a number of selected locations around Sweden. Next year, the idea is to expand the forecast to include more locations in Norrland.

For more information, please contact:

Johan Linderholm
Associate professor
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Philip Buckland
Associate professor
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Natuschka Lee
Research fellow
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