Although Lake Vänern is the largest freshwater reservoir in Western Europe, it remains relatively unknown to the scientific community outside of Scandinavia. Therefore, we aim to give a brief outline of the lake and its geological history, in particular the landscape transformation, resource utilization, pollution history, and environmental development of the region. The landscape around Lake Vänern was shaped into its present form during the latest glaciations some 10,000 years ago. Large variation exists in its tributaries, with forest in the north and agricultural areas in the south. Human influence on the landscape was relatively small until the mid-18th century. Later, in the mid-19th century, the agriculture, forestry and shipping industries underwent large transformations as the towns around the lake grew and the economy changed. Development of fishing equipment, processes and changes in catching methods industrialized the fishing industry after mid-20th century. In the 1960s the lake was considered to be one of the most heavily mercury-polluted lakes in the world. After the passing of the first national environmental protection law in Sweden the lake turned into a success story: It has been declared to be healthy. However, old pollution still affects the fishing industry. With this new focus on the environment, the scientific community started to be interested in the lake. The lake has also played a very important role as the largest hydropower reservoir in Sweden. Here, too, the environmental question is in focus and the effects of the water regulation are still under debate. The result has been loss of biodiversity and an increased risk of an inflow of invasive species from international shipping. However, still many questions remain to be answered regarding the lake and effect of ongoing climate change on the sustainable development of the lake region.

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