The cleanest air in the world is in Finnish Lapland. It is proven that the world’s cleanest respiratory air is in the Muonio municipality of Western Lapland. In Muonio, there are only 4 microgrammes of particles of under 10 micrometres in a cubic metre, while in the world’s dirtiest city, Nigeria’s Onitsha, there are almost 600 microgrammes.
The database for 2016 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals that the clean localities in the world are usually small, affluent and located far from industrial areas. Other particularly clean localities are Norman Wells, Canada, Campisábalos, Spain, and Converse County, United States. The WHO list took into account the mass concentrations of fine particles whose diameter is less than 10 micrometres (PM10). The diameter corresponds to a seventh part of a hair’s thickness. Particles of under ten micrometres travel with respiratory air into the human bronchi.
In Finland, the limit values of clean air are not reached anywhere
According to the WHO’s recommendations, the annual average of PM10 particles should be a maximum of 20 microgrammes per cubic metre. According to the WHO’s statistics, the levels fall below that everywhere in Finland, even in big cities.
According to the WHO, there was an average of 12 microgrammes per cubic metre including in Finnish urban areas in 2011. In India, the corresponding quantity is 134.
Only a tenth of European urban population enjoys air as clean as this. Air quality can be considered particularly poor, if the average of the mass concentration of particles of under 10 micrometres exceeds 100 microgrammes during an hour.
More dangerous than PM10 particles are fine particles of a diameter of 2.5 micrometres. Their amount per cubic metre should not exceed 10 microgrammes. In the world’s cleanest place, Muonio, the annual average for 2.5-micrometre particles is only 2 microgrammes.
It transpires from the WHO’s data, into which have also been collected the measurement data of fine particles of 2.5-micrometres from 3,000 localities in a hundred countries for the years 2008–2014 that, on average, Finland has the third cleanest air in the world. Only Sweden and Canada top Finland. Finland is followed by Australia, Iceland and Estonia. Air quality in these countries is very clean, that is, an average of fine particle concentrations of 2.5 micrometers fall below 8 microgrammes per cubic metre.
According to senior researcher Pia Anttila of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, several factors influence Finland’s good air quality.
– Finland is located far enough from big European cities, so emissions from long-range transport of pollutants remain low. On a global scale, there is really only one big city in Finland, Helsinki, and even its air quality is excellent. There are also few inhabitants and little traffic in Finland. A very significant aspect is also that Finland has managed to curtail industrial emissions. In addition to good cleaning methods, industrial processes operate with clean technology.
Pia Anttila says that people living in countries with clean air do not always understand what a natural resource clean air is. Over 80% of the world’s urban population is exposed to air pollutants exceeding the WHO’s recommended values. Over 3.5 billion or a half of the world’s population live in countries where there is an average exposure to a quantity of particles exceeding the WHO’s limit values.
Fine particles and air pollutants cause asthma and aggravate obstructive lung disease and respiratory infection. The great quantity of fine particles also increases the occurrence of coronary heart disease and diseases of cerebral circulation. For example, if the quantity of PM10 particles can be reduced from 70 microgrammes per cubic metre to 20 microgrammes, mortality decreases by 15%.
Large African and Asian cities suffer from air pollution. Although the 600-microgramme figure of Onitsha, Nigeria, is huge, the figures are also alarmingly high the big cities of Asia. In Beijing, there are over 100 microgrammes of PM10 particles per cubic metre, in Delhi, India, over 230 and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, even over 350. In Helsinki, the corresponding figure is 19. In Muonio, the cleanest place in the world, there are, on the other hand, almost five times less PM10 particles than in Helsinki.
Clean nature of Pallas-Yllästunturi
One of the world’s air quality measurement stations is located in the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Finland’s most popular national park. The exceptionally clean air of this measurement station is compared to the data of the world’s other measurement stations. The measurement stations give important data for analysing the state of the world’s environment.
– Finland’s air quality is excellent compared to the rest of the world, particularly Asia, notes Riku Lumiaro of the Finnish Environment Institute.
– For example in Beijing you can feel the air pollutants in your lungs on a windless day. You’re also tired and your head aches.
Lumiaro considers Finland a good destination for health tourists. In Finland, the air, the water and the food are clean.
In Lumiaro’s view, a special feature of Pallas-Ylläs-tunturi National Park is quietness, in addition to the world’s cleanest air.
– In the spring and autumn, even birds are quiet there. In good wilderness hotels you can peacefully view the spacious fell landscape, which comes into its own in the clear, clean air.
Photos by Jonna Saari
Northern lights are one phenomena which everybody should see at least once in their lifetime. Seeing auroras is always a bit luck. Even if the odds are in your favor, it’s never 100% sure that they will show up.
Fortunately Finnish Lapland usually offers pretty good conditions for an amazing light show. Every now and then Northern lights are visible also in Southern Finland.
Seeing is one, photographing another thing. Here are a few tips that can help you to capture the show.
Best time to capture the auroras
Polar night during the winter offers many hours of darkness, but it’s also cold. Very cold! Like -20 celcius degrees (-4 fahrenheit). Summer is out of the option: There is sunlight 24 hours a day. It is completely possible to photograph auroras during winter, but wear proper clothes. Also remember extra batteries. Cold drains them fast. My advice is September and October during autumn, and March to April during spring. Autumn is also time of colors and spring is great for snowy sunset photos.
Wait for the dark and clear skies – use Aurora forecast
There can be Northern lights during the day, but they are not visible while sunlight is still strong. Sometimes powerful Northern lights can be seen after sunset. Find a dark place and wait. Clear skies are also essential. If the clouds are too thick, you can’t see auroras. Be patient. Sometimes even a cloudy night can offer 30 minutes of clear skies and awesome light shows. They might appear in one minute and be gone in the next. It doesn’t hurt to use forecast service like Space weather.
Use a tripod or something else to hold the camera in place
While aurora show can be strong, it’s not as strong as daylight. You’ll need to use long exposure, which means holding the camera still for 1-20 seconds. Tripod is great, but you can also use ground or something else to hold the camera in place. And use timer! You don’t want to accidentally move the camera by pressing buttons.
The best quality comes with DSLR cameras, but you can get pretty good pictures with pocket cameras and even some cell phones. If you can set ISO, choose shutter speed and aperture, great! If you can’t, it’s ok. With pocket cameras / cell phones, just find a steady place and point to the sky. If you have a night mode and timer, use them.
For DSLR I usually start with these settings: ISO 1600, shutter speed 8 seconds and aperture around 2.8 – 4. If lights are moving fast, try shutter speed of 4 seconds. Remember to compensate by lowering or increasing ISO. You can also try 15 – 25 seconds, but too slow shutter speed could mean one messy light ball photo.
Hopefully these tips help you to capture your own Aurora photos. Please check out my Instagram profile @anttiphotography and comments are more than welcome. Thank you and see you next time!
There is only one way to describe it: it feels cold, at first, but then after you’re getting warmer you realize it becomes the thing you’ve been missing your whole life.
After ten hour drive we finally reach our destination at the edge of the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. The latter hours of driving were battling against the freezing windshield, because when the temperature drops below -25C heaters can’t keep up with the cold any longer. After getting out of the vehicle the freezing windshield was the least of our worries.
We had selected our cabin carefully so we knew that after a long day we didn’t have to hike for too long. Our cabin was only about half a mile away from the closest road. We were happily surprised when we noticed that the path leading to the cabin was clear and we didn’t have to walk across the snow. There was already half a meter of snow on the ground even it was only a December. It was full moon so we decided to save batteries of our headlights for later and started our walk at the moonlight.
The walk to the cabin made us warm and even to sweat a bit so it was crucial to get the fire going as quickly as possible after getting over the cabin. We got lucky again since there had been somebody at the cabin few days earlier. We got nearly 20 degrees advantage comparing to the air outside as the cabin thermometer showed only -10 degrees of celsius. Even though it was only -10C inside it felt immediately warm after being outside.
Third time we got lucky happened just when we were about to go back outside to make some firewood. The unwritten rule of these deserted cabins says that leave some firewood ready for the next one: Next to the fireplace were laying two stacks of nicely chopped firewood with some smaller ones on the top piles ready to get the fire going. We sure appreciated that this time.
After few hours of working hard we finally got some time to rest. There was enough firewood to support the fire over night, candles were setting the mood just right and we got our bellies full of warm soup. Outside the cabin you were able to enjoy some subtle hints of auroras and watch how the moon light the fells around us. The only sound was cold which got the trees cracking. Inside it was getting warm enough to sleep in our sleeping bags as the fireplace next to us gently hummed us to sleep.
Tonight we had cut our firewood to heat up the cabin, we had made a hole in the ice from where we got water, we had heated the water over the fire and made some soup to eat. We did it all ourselves and after all that work in the cold when you’re feeling warm and cozy you can really feel what you have done. And you realize that those are all the things that matter: being warm and full and surrounded by your friends.
I live in a small village in the middle of Lapland. In fact, most people who live in Lapland live in small villages. That’s because there are almost no proper cities here at all, above the arctic circle.
And because there are no cities, there is no articifial light, but lots and lots of darkness in winter. But during this darkness, the sky can sometimes set on green and purple fire.
Last night I left home around 7 p.m. and walked into the forest next to our house. I had no headlamp or flashlight with me, as I knew that after a few minutes my eyes would get used to the darkness. There is a bit of snow on the ground, which helps to see the path. Also, the Moon started rising.
After having walked only about a 100 meters, I saw the first flames in the sky.
I sat down and looked at the auroras dancing above me.
In the dark forest full of pure silence, I could hear some soft and distant rustling. At first I thought it was the aurora making that noise, as they are known to make some weird sounds sometimes. But then, as I sat there thinking about it, I realized that what I actually heard was the nearby lake freezing. The temperature was well below zero.
I stood up and headed forward. I wanted to see the nearest swamp. And boy, was it beautiful.
I sat down again, this time next to a small pine on the edge of the forest. I didn’t want to walk on the swamp, as it might not be fully frozen yet. It was safer to stay on dry ground. I was wearing enough clothes so I didn’t feel cold at all, even though I was sitting in snow.
I could still hear the sound of the freezing lake. Then I heard a little snap behind me. I still don’t know what it was, but probably it was just a freezing tree. Trees can make popping sounds when it gets really cold. It’s such an interesting experience to walk into a dark forest in winter: you can even hear the trees.
I texted my husband that everything was ok and that I was be heading home now.
In a Finnish forest there’s really not much to be afraid of. Reindeer and moose are not dangerous, and wolves, wolverines and bears do not come anywhere near you. Most finns know this and that is why we love to spend time in forests, enjoying silence, pure air and sometimes also auroras.
One of my favourite places in the world is Pyhä-Luosto National Park. Fells are all that is left of ancient mountains. Although Pyhä-Luosto is a skiresort with extensive winter activities, I think the most magical time to visit this park is Summer or Autumn. Here are a few pictures that I have taken over the years.
Autumn is the time of mystics. Fog and bright colors are great reasons to spend a few days in Pyhä-Luosto.
On the other hand in the summer there is light 24 hours a day. Lapland’s summer is swift but bright. Make sure you are not visiting Lapland during “räkkä” a.k.a. the worst mosquito time. End of July and August are great for hiking and mosquitos won’t bother you too much.
Of course in Lapland you will run into reindeer. Some times the clouds are so low that the only clear place is on top of the fells.
Midnight sun, as they call it, is the opposite of polar night. Basically summer is light and winter is dark. Very dark and cold. There are sunlight only for a few hours a day, maybe not even that.
Ancient mountains have been swiped away by ice ages and erosion. This is what is left of the majestic mountains.
1) It’s never more than a 10-minute walk to the nature
In Helsinki, you are literally in the middle of nature. Helsinki is the only capital in the world where you can wake up in a good state, go to the Opera and go to the forest to pick mushrooms during the same day. No matter where you are, a piece of nature is always just a short walk away. Even in the very heart of the city centre. There are three arboretums, historic mansion parks, dozens of other parks and wild nature areas.
2) Central Park is the green livingroom of Helsinki
Central park is the green city centre of Helsinki. It is the most popular park of the entire country. Central park is visited annually by nearly as many people as in all Finnish national parks in total, almost 2.5 million. Just lift the packpack at the yard of the Helsinki Opera House and walk through the park to the wilderness. As far as you want. The green space continues all the way to Lapland.
3) It’s the capital of the land of 40 national parks
Helsinki is the capital of Finland, the land of national parks. There are 40 national parks, and they are visited more than 2.8 million times a year. The country’s most stunning nature can be found in these parks, that are open to public around the year.
4) There are 7 national parks within 1,5 hour drive
There two national parks in the Helsinki metropolitan area: Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi. In addition there are 5 more national parks less than 1.5 hours away. In any Finnish national park you get to experience silence very easily. You can be in touch with nature without any filter in between. At the same time, you get directly into your own private space where nobody comes to disturb. Visit a national park during the day and in the evening you can still enjoy a concert, go clubbing, dine in a restaurant or go see a movie.
5) There are dozens of recretion forests
There is no other capital region of over a million inhabitants in the world with so much surrounding nature. In addition to national parks and parks, there are dozens of recreation forests, routes and areas. Their purpose is to provide an easily accessible place for everyone to relax in the middle of pure nature. Try one of those.
6) The city has green, softly breathing lungs
The nature areas surrounding the city clean the air and bind impurities. The vegetation also reduces noise impact. Finland is one of the world’s top countries in the purity of air and quietness. And you really can feel this in the capital area.
7) The Viherkehä Green Ring
Cities all around the world are surrounded by the ring roads. So is Helsinki. But this capital city is also surrounded by a green ring. The Viherkehä (Green Ring) combines different natural reserves in an unbroken chain around Helsinki: parks, recreation areas and national parks.
These hundreds of conservation and recreation areas surround Helsinki in about a 40-mile radius. From Sipoonkorpi national park you can walk or ski even over 40 miles to the beautiful cape of Porkkala along the Viherkehä area. You only have to pass underneath big roads via underpasses.
8) It’s called the Daughter of the Baltic Sea
That’s how they call Helsinki. Helsinki was built where land and sea meet. Nature is present in many forms, sea included. The Helsinki metropolitan area has its own archipelago. Many of the most spectacular places are located just in the islands.
9) The inhabitants are nature addicts
Finnish nature relationship is unique. In the summer, on the fairways it feels, that the whole city is leaving for the weekend and heading into the wild. And the Midsummer’s Eve it is also absolutely true. The city centre is practically deserted. Everybody is in the nature.
First snow is always magical. As polar night approaches, there is less and less sunlight every day. One day the sun no longer rises at all. But with only a pinch of snow the whole world gets bright again.
I went to see the first snow to the hills of Sodankylä. My friend came along with her lapponian herder puppy Ruska.
It was a sunny day after weeks and weeks of cloudiness. We climbed to the top of Pittiövaara hill to have a picnic. A raven came to say hello to us. What a beautiful bird.
It was noon and the temperature was a few degrees below freezing. We were wearing lots of warm clothes and also proper hiking shoes – Pittiövaara is a rocky hill, and it is not easy to walk safely on big snowy rocks.
Some parts were too challenging for the puppy. Luckily she still fits in a backpack.
We chose a sunny spot to stop and have a coffee. It was a little gorge on the top of the hill, so the rocks gave us shelter from the cold wind. It was spectacular. In the horizon we could see the silhouettes of Pyhätunturi and Luosto – the Pyhä-Luosto national park.
The trip took us a few hours. I can not imagine a better way to spend a sunny Sunday in Lapland.
I’m so happy it’s snowy again. Welcome winter!
Those suffering from noise and stress can find an escape in forests. It is proven that sylvan nature reduces stress and blood pressure. Finland offers an excellent opportunity for a change in lifestyle, and its path leads to the forest.
Only five per cent of Finland’s surface area is built. More than 70% of the surface area is forest and 10% water systems. No wonder that enjoying nature is great on a global scale in Finland: more than half of Finns visit summer houses regularly.
As much as 70% of the inhabitants of northern Finland annually visit the nation’s forests to trek or pick berries or mushrooms.
In principle, every Finn has access to a silent forest and a strip of shore where one can be in peace. Foreigners too have noticed this. Tourists seek a counterbalance to their everyday life in Finnish nature destinations. They want peace, quiet and opportunities for nature and aesthetic experiences.
This is difficult in the built urban environment. For example, as much as 75% of Europeans live in an urban environment. Tourists value original nature, clean environment and local culture.
“Aesthetic experiences and the relaxing effect of a green environment lift your mood and help recover from stress,” claims Professor Liisa Tyrväinen of Natural Resources Institute Finland.
Dr. Liisa Tyrväinen has long studied the significance of forests as a producer of well-being. Forests have a great effect on people as a mental, cultural and experiential environment.
Air pollution and exposure to noise, in this order, are the biggest environmental problems for human health according to WHO, the World Health Organisation.
Insufficient recovery from stress raises the blood pressure and increases the risk of diabetes.
Ms. Tyrväinen emphasises that particularly nature areas must be seen as a resource of health care for city dwellers. According to many studies, forests promote both physical and mental well-being.
Large nature areas muffle noise and improve air quality by removing dust and other impurities and by binding ozone and monoxide gases.
It is also proven that an outing in nature and just being there lift the mood. Forests have a great therapeutic significance.
On the basis of studies, one can influence one’s state of health by being and moving in a nature environment. Especially in one’s favourite spot in nature, it is possible to regulate one’s condition towards promoting health.
“According to studies, people experience stronger recovery from stress on pleasant exercise routes often situated in the forest and in larger outdoor exercise areas than in the street and outdoor spaces of city centres mentioned as favourite places.”
Blood pressure falls and the organs recover in the forest
Tyrväinen’s research group has results measured with heart rate monitors and blood pressure meters on how quickly a nature environment and particularly the forest help recovery from stress.
The measurements and surveys were made with a test group of almost a hundred persons.
“The health benefits of a green environment are evident.
A stressed person recovers quickly in nature. Recovery in a green zone is apparent after just 15 minutes!”
“The results of joint studies made with the Japanese are indisputable. When people were taken into the forest, a decrease in blood pressure and pulse, a reduction in muscular tension and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system were observed in the measurement results.”
The parasympathetic nervous system is most active in rest. From the effect of a parasympathetic impulse, the heart rate slows down and respiratory frequency is reduced. Being in the forest has a similar effect on the organs as yoga or meditation. The Finnish forest is a retreat.
People felt more vigorous and even more creative after being in the forest. Liisa Tyrväinen emphasises the aesthetics of nature. Stress is particularly removed by the experience of nature, an unbuilt, beautiful scenery and silence.
Liisa Tyrväinen recommends consciously combining nature experiences and moving in nature with a holiday trip.
It helps recovery from the strains of everyday life. “One nature trip is not enough to heal, but it can be an impetus for a change in lifestyle.”
A nature trip to the Finnish forest offers a holistic health package. It includes multisensory nature experiences, a clean and beautiful environment, outings in nature, accommodation and sauna close to nature, silence and healthy forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, wild vegetables and game.
The long summer days and cool temperature increase the aromaticity and pigments of wild berries. The unique aroma and the colours are produced by flavonoids and other polyphenols. The antioxidising efficiency of berries is greater than that of other plants.
Over 40 edible berries grow in Finnish forests. Due to the arctic growing conditions, they contain exceptionally many bioactive compounds, i.e. vitamins and polyphenols.
Free oxygen radicals causing oxidation make holes in cell walls. Foodstuffs containing plenty of antioxidants prevent the involution of the organism.
The antioxidants are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium, zinc, carnosine and ubiquinone. In addition to these, there are many polyphenolic compounds with similar characteristics protective of the organism. There are a lot of them particularly in wild berries, which grow in the north.
IN 2012, the NDL (Nutrient Data Laboratory) laboratory, researching the nutritional data of the United States, removed the popular ORAC database, dealing with the antioxidant contents of foodstuffs, from its web pages.
The reason was that the health effect of polyphenols could not be accounted for in the data collected into the database.
Polyphenols are metabolic products and protective agents of plants whose effect is similar to that of antioxidants. Polyphenols protect plants from diseases and the sun’s rays. Wild berries growing in Finland have many protective compounds which also benefit humans.
– Finnish berries and the products manufactured from them have great opportunities as health products. Northern wild berries have been proven to be healthy, and they have been observed to have numerous health effects. A real superfood is a berry smoothie made of wild berries, sweetened with honey, for example, says research director, Dr. Carina Tikkanen-Kaukanen of Ruralia Institute of the University of Helsinki.
According to Dr. Tikkanen-Kaukanen, the real benefits of the Finnish wild berry are, in addition to its northern location, clean soil and clean air. The organic berries intended for export are obtained from Finnish certified organic forests.
Tikkanen-Kaukanen has long studied the health effects of wild berries. She is particularly interested in the anti-infective properties of berries.
The health effects of American cranberry have been known for a long time. It was scientifically proven in the 1990s that the proanthocyanidins of American cranberry can prevent the adhesion of coliform bacterium to the walls of urinary tracts.
– Now there is interest in Asia and particularly in China in the berries of northern Europe, such as bilberry.
Berries prevent infections
According to Tikkanen-Kaukanen, particularly the clean wild berries of northern forests have properties which prevent bacterial infections. Researchers regard the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics as a phenomenon as serious as climate change, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it concerns every person all over the world.
– An additional problem is that not all have access to effective antibiotics. Annually over a million children die from untreated pneumonia and blood poisoning caused by the pneumococcus bacterium.
The phenolic compounds contained by berries can prevent the adhesion of several different bacteria to the organs.
They repel effectively, for example, the pneumococcus bacterium which causes the most common respiratory infections as well as preventing infection by the meningococcus bacterium which causes meningitis. The polyphenols of bilberry, blackcurrant, crowberry and lingonberry (anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and flavonols) block the bacteria of the mouth and prevent the formation of caries and plaque in teeth.
– Now it is important to find new ways to fight infectious diseases. Ingesting berries as such or as products prepared from them, such as berry juice, is an effective way to prevent infections.
Tikkanen-Kaukanen’s research team tries to discover by means of clinical research whether the occurrence of nasal-pharyngeal infections can be reduced by means of berry juices.
The research team obtained the best results specifically with berry juices.