Flygfoto på hav och öar med hus i Bohuslän
Photo: Sebastian Långström/Unsplash

NICE - Marine Environmental Research

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2012 - 2019
Project owner
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Swedish research council Formas

Short description

Mixtures of toxic chemicals regularly occur in our coastal ecosystems. The research project NICE - Novel instruments for effectbased assessment of chemical pollution in coastal ecosystems developed instruments for monitoring their ecological effects, as required by the Water Framework Directive and needed for identification of the relevant pollutants in the field.

NICE three main aims

(i) To develop a NICE toolbox for effect‐based monitoring and risk assessment of realistic, complex exposure situations. The tools are based on an integration of the whole landscape of ecotoxicological effects, comprising advanced molecular tools (OMICs), classical biomarkers and population level endpoints and finally advanced ecological effect indicators (PICT).

(ii) To validate and apply the developed tools in a multi‐level field study, comprising fish, invertebrates and microorganisms. We will provide an in‐depth assessment of the links between ecological and chemical status at selected sites at the Swedish westcoast (in Västra Götaland). This will be contrasted with sites in Germany and Poland with known heavy pollution.

(iii) To provide options for amending current regulatory approaches for chemicals in the environment, in order to facilitate the setting of “mixture‐aware” environmental quality targets and monitoring approaches.

The NICE tools was evaluated in field studies. NICE research group suggested options for environmental regulation of chemical mixtures, thus provided input to the water management in Västra Götaland. Reference and contaminated sites mainly on the Swedish coast was selected in co-operation with stakeholder authorities and subjected to deeper ecotoxicological investigations. Chemical monitoring data was initially used for pinpointing the pollutants at each site. These was ranked according to their expected environmental impact and then further investigated by extended chemical analysis.

Ecotoxicological effect profiles (“fingerprints”) of the priority pollutants was recorded for microbial communities, invertebrates and fish, using classic biomarkers, population level endpoints, ecological effect indicators (PICT) and advanced fingerprints based on (gen-)OMICs. The fingerprints was used to detect effects in the environment, providing causal links between the mere presence of pollutants and their ecological impact of a site. The effect profiles was aggregated into models for site-specific ecological impacts, which were amended, if needed, to take into account the presence of unknown pollutants and interactions.

Work areas

  • Exposure assessment

  • Fish Ecotoxicology

  • Invertebrate Ecotoxicology

  • Legal work

  • Microbial Biofilms 

  • Omics and bioinformatics

Outreach and dissemination

The dissemination of this research project took place at several levels; within the project, to our stakeholders in the industry, the innovation system, policy, funding agencies and regulatory authorities, to the scientific community and to the public.

Major outreach activities

  • SETAC Focus Topic Meeting on mixture toxicity assessment in Colorado (Sept. 2017)
  • NICE Summer school on bioinformatics for next-generation sequencing data (Kristineberg Marine Research Station, 2015)
  • Special Science Symposium on marine strategy framework directive (Brussels, 2014)
  • 5 mixture sessions at the international conferences of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC, 2012-2017)
  • Omic approaches in biofilm research: advances in ecology and ecotoxicology  (2018)



Thomas Backhaus
Associate Professor
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Gothenburg

Phone: +46 (0)31-786 2734
E mail: