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Water: Monitoring & Assessment

Using a Secchi Disk or Transparency Tube

Secchi Disk A Secchi disk is a black and white disk that is lowered by hand into the water to the depth at which it vanishes from sight (Figure 5.10). The distance to vanishing is then recorded. The clearer the water, the greater the distance. Secchi disks are simple to use and inexpensive. For river monitoring they have limited use, however, because in most cases the river bottom will be visible and the disk will not reach a vanishing point. Deeper, slower moving rivers are the most appropriate places for Secchi disk measurement although the current might require that the disk be extra-weighted so it does not sway and make measurement difficult. Secchi disks cost about $50 and can be homemade. The line attached to the Secchi disk must be marked according to units designated by the volunteer program, in waterproof ink. Many programs require volunteers to measure to the nearest 1/10 meter. Meter intervals can be tagged (e.g., with duct tape) for ease of use. To measure water clarity with a Secchi disk:
  • Check to make sure that the Secchi disk is securely attached to the measured line.
  • Lean over the side of the boat and lower the Secchi disk into the water, keeping your back toward the sun to block glare.
  • Lower the disk until it disappears from view. Lower it one third of a meter and then slowly raise the disk until it just reappears. Move the disk up and down until the exact vanishing point is found.
  • Attach a clothespin to the line at the point where the line enters the water. Record the measurement on your data sheet. Repeating the measurement will provide you with a quality control check.
The key to consistent results is to train volunteers to follow standard sampling procedures and, if possible, have the same individual take the reading at the same site throughout the season. Transparency Tube Pioneered by Australia's Department of Conservation, the transparency tube is a clear, narrow plastic tube marked in units with a dark pattern painted on the bottom. Water is poured into the tube until the pattern disappears (Figure 5.11). Some U.S. volunteer monitoring programs (e.g., the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Clean Water Initiative and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)) are testing the transparency tube in streams and rivers. MPCA uses tubes marked in centimeters, and has found tube readings to relate fairly well to lab measurements of turbidity and total suspended solids (although they do not recommend the transparency tube for applications where precise and accurate measurement is required or in highly colored waters). The TVA and MPCA recommend the following sampling considerations:
  • Collect the sample in a bottle or bucket in mid-stream and mid-depth if possible. Avoid stagnant water and sample as far from the shoreline as is safe. Avoid collecting sediment from the bottom of the stream.
  • Face upstream as you fill the bottle or bucket.
  • Take readings in open but shaded conditions. Avoid direct sunlight by turning your back to the sun.
  • Carefully stir or swish the water in the bucket or bottle until it is homogeneous, taking care not to produce air bubbles (these will scatter light and affect the measurement). Then pour the water slowly in the tube while looking down the tube. Measure the depth of the water column in the tube when the symbol just disappears.
For more information on using a transparency tube, see the references at the end of this section. Many programs have begun making their own tubes. They now may also be purchased in the U.S. (see Appendix B - Scientific Supply Houses).

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