Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Optical techniques for the determination of nitrate in environmental waters: Guidelines for instrument selection, operation, deployment, maintenance, quality assurance, and data reporting

July 25, 2013

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 on time scales in which environmental conditions actually change. Of particular interest is the application of ultraviolet (UV) photometers for in situ determination of nitrate concentrations in rivers and streams. The variety of UV nitrate sensors currently available differ in several important ways related to instrument design that affect the accuracy of their nitrate concentration measurements in different types of natural waters. This report provides information about selection and use of UV nitrate sensors by the U.S. Geological Survey to facilitate the collection of high-quality data across studies, sites, and instrument types.

For those in need of technical background and information about sensor selection, this report addresses the operating principles, key features and sensor design, sensor characterization techniques and typical interferences, and approaches for sensor deployment. For those needing information about maintaining sensor performance in the field, key sections in this report address maintenance and calibration protocols, quality-assurance techniques, and data formats and reporting. Although the focus of this report is UV nitrate sensors, many of the principles can be applied to other in situ optical sensors for water-quality studies.