Globally differentiated effect factors for characterising terrestrial acidification in life cycle impact assessment

Annika L. Gade, Michael Zwicky Hauschild, Alexis Laurent*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


To assess terrestrial ecosystems damages from acidification, life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) can be applied using characterisation factors, which integrate the quantification of adverse effects via effect factors (EFs), linking decreasing soil pH to declines in species richness. With a species coverage of 0.6%, the currently-existing EFs defined for 14 biomes carry important uncertainties and lack the appropriate spatial resolution to capture the effects of terrestrial acidification. In our study, we thus used georeferenced observational data with 113 million data points to develop a comprehensive, global inventory covering 189,185 vascular plant species, which is nearly 100 times more species than existing inventories used in LCIA (raising the species coverage to 49%). EFs were then calculated for 825 ecoregions. Great spatial variability is observed between ecoregions within a same biome spanning up to 3 orders of magnitude, and EFs developed at biome level tend to underestimate acidification effects. We find up to 2 orders of magnitude differences between our EFs and the ones currently recommended for use in LCIA. These results call for updating current LCIA practice to assess acidification impacts with our more differentiated and environmentally representative EFs and to implement our approach to other site-dependent environmental impacts where large georeferenced datasets exist.
Original languageEnglish
Article number143280
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Life cycle assessment
  • LCA
  • LCIA
  • Characterisation factor
  • Species richness
  • Spatial differentiation
  • Endemism

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