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Applications of optical sensors for high-frequency water-quality monitoring and research

October 28, 2015

The recent commercial availability of in-situ optical sensors, together with new techniques for data collection and analysis, provides the opportunity to monitor a wide range of water-quality constituents over time scales during which environmental conditions actually change. Traditional approaches for data collection (daily to monthly discrete samples) are often limited by high sample collection, processing, and analytical costs, difficult site access, and logistical challenges, particularly for long-term sampling at a large number of sites. Optical sensors that continuously measure constituents in the environment by absorbance or fluorescence properties (Figure 1) have had a long history of use in oceanography for measuring highly resolved concentrations and fluxes of organic matter, nutrients, and algal material. However, much of the work using commercially-available optical sensors in rivers and streams has taken place in only the last few years. Figure 1. [NOT SHOWN] Optical sensor technology is now sufficiently developed to warrant broader application for research and monitoring in coastal and freshwater systems, and the United States Geological Survey (a U.S. science agency) is now using these sensors in a variety of research and monitoring programs to better understand water quality in-situ and in real-time. Examples are numerous and range from the applications of nitrate sensors for calculating loads to estuaries susceptible to hypoxia (Pellerin et al., 2014) to the use of fluorometers to estimate methymercury fluxes (Bergamaschi et al., 2011) and disinfection byproduct formation (Carpenter et al., 2013). Transmitting these data in real-time provides information that can be used for early trend detection, help identify monitoring gaps critical for water management, and provide science-based decision support across a range of issues related to water quality, freshwater ecosystems, and human health. Despite the value of these sensors, collecting data that meet high-quality standards requires investment in and adherence to tested and established methods and protocols for sensor operation and data management (Pellerin et al., 2013). For example, optical sensor measurements can be strongly influenced by a variety of matrix effects, including water temperature, inner filtering from highly colored water, and scattering of light by suspended particles (Downing et al., 2012). Characterizing and correcting sensors for these effects – as well as the continued development of common methodologies and protocols for sensor use – will be critical to ensuring comparable measurements across sites and over time. In addition, collaborative efforts such as the Nutrient Sensor Challenge ( will continue to accelerate the development, production and use of affordable, reliable and accurate sensors for a range of environments. REFERENCES Bergamaschi .B.A., Fleck J.A., Downing B.D., Boss E., Pellerin B.A., Ganju N.K., Schoellhamer D.H., Byington A.A., Heim W.A., Stephenson M., Fujii R. (2011), Methyl mercury dynamics in a tidal wetland quantified using in situ optical measurements. Limnology and Oceanography, 56(4): 1355-1371. Carpenter K.D., Kraus T.E.C., Goldman J.H., Saraceno J., Downing B.D., Bergamaschi B.A., McGhee G., Triplett T. (2013), Sources and Characteristics of Organic Matter in the Clackamas River, Oregon, Related to the Formation of Disinfection By-products in Treated Drinking Water: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5001, 78 p. Downing .B.D., Pellerin B.A., Bergamaschi B.A., Saraceno J., Kraus T.E.K. (2012), Seeing the light: The effects of particles, temperature and inner filtering on in situ CDOM fluorescence in rivers and streams. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods, 10: 767-775. Pellerin B.A., Bergamaschi B.A., Downing B.D., Saraceno J., Garrett J.D., Olsen L.D. (2013), Optical Techniques for the Determination of Nitrate in En

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Applications of optical sensors for high-frequency water-quality monitoring and research
Authors Brian Pellerin
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Abstract or summary
Index ID 70156710
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center

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