The effect of suspended sediment and color on ultraviolet spectrophotometric nitrate sensors

Open-File Report 2016-1014



Four commercially available ultraviolet nitrate spectrophotometric sensors were evaluated by the U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility (HIF) to determine the effects of suspended sediment concentration (SSC) and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) on sensor accuracy. The evaluated sensors were: the Hach NITRATAX plus sc (5-millimeters (mm) path length), Hach NITRATAX plus sc (2 mm), S::CAN Spectro::lyser (5 mm), and the Satlantic SUNA V2 (5 mm). A National Institute of Standards and Technology-traceable nitrate-free sediment standard was purchased and used to create the turbid environment, and an easily made filtered tea solution was used for the CDOM test. All four sensors performed well in the test that evaluated the effect of suspended sediment on accuracy. The Hach 5 mm, Hach 2 mm, and the SUNA V2 met their respective manufacturer accuracy specifications up to concentrations of 4,500 milligrams per liter (mg/L) SSC. The S::CAN failed to meet its accuracy specifications when the SSC concentrations exceeded 4,000 mg/L. Test results from the effect of CDOM on accuracy indicated a significant skewing of data from all four sensors and showed an artificial elevation of measured nitrate to varying amounts. Of the four sensors tested, the Satlantic SUNA V2’s accuracy was affected the least in the CDOM test. The nitrate concentration measured by the SUNA V2 was approximately 24 percent higher than the actual concentration when estimated total organic carbon values exceeded 44 mg/L. Measured nitrate concentration falsely increased 49 percent when measured by the Hach 5 mm, and 75 percent when measured by the Hach 2 mm. The S::CAN’s reported nitrate concentration increased 96 percent. Path length plays an important role in the sensor’s ability to compensate measurements for matrix interferences, but does not solely determine how well a sensor can handle all interferences. The sensor’s proprietary algorithms also play a key role in matrix interference compensation. The sensors’ ability to compensate for CDOM varied significantly during the tests, even among the three with 5-mm path lengths. Results of this evaluation suggest that the proprietary algorithms of the nitrate analyzers are more effective compensating for suspended sediment, and less effective compensating for CDOM (color) when sensor path length remains constant.

Suggested Citation

Snazelle, T.T., 2016, The effect of suspended sediment and color on ultraviolet spectrophotometric nitrate sensors: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report, 2016−1014, 10 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of Spectrophotometric Nitrate Sensors
  • Test Procedures
  • Test Results
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title The effect of suspended sediment and color on ultraviolet spectrophotometric nitrate sensors
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2016-1014
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161014
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Office of Surface Water
Description Report: v,10 p.; Tables: 2-4
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details