Chlorophyll Sensor - Monitor Abnormal Levels of Algae
Phytoplankton are an important aspect of healthy water bodies. Algae and cyanobacteria help provide oxygen and food to aquatic life. As a key component, imbalanced levels of phytoplankton can cause major problems. If too many nutrients are available, algal blooms can be triggered. Algal blooms and overgrowth of phytoplankton can lead to toxic algal blooms and fish kills. On the other hand, phytoplankton productivity may be limited by the lack of required reactants such as sunlight. Reduced productivity can also lead to fish kills. Therefore, the use of cyanobacteria chlorophyll sensors is very important.
Cyanobacteria: blue-green algae
Although blue-green algae are capable of photosynthesis for energy, they are a type of bacteria. This means they are unicellular, prokaryotic (simple) organisms. Prokaryotic means that cyanobacteria do not have a nucleus or other membrane-bound organelles within their cell walls.
Cyanobacteria are the only bacteria that contain chlorophyll A, a chemical required for oxygenic photosynthesis (the same process used by plants and algae). This process uses carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to produce oxygen and glucose (sugar) for energy. Chlorophyll A is used to capture energy from sunlight to aid in this process. Other bacteria can be considered photosynthetic organisms. But they follow a different process, called bacterial photosynthesis or anaerobic photosynthesis. The process uses bacteriochlorophyll instead of chlorophyll A. These bacterial cells use carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide (instead of water) to make sugar. Bacteria cannot use oxygen in photosynthesis and therefore produce energy under anaerobic conditions (without oxygen). Cyanobacteria and other phytoplankton photosynthesize like plants and produce the same sugars and oxygen for cellular respiration.
In addition to chlorophyll A, blue-green algae contain the pigments phycoerythrin and phycocyanin, which give bacteria their light blue color (hence the name blue-green algae). Although lacking a nucleus, these microbes do contain an internal sac called an air bubble that helps them float near the surface of water.
What is Chlorophyll?
Chlorophyll is a pigment found in plants, algae and phytoplankton. This molecule acts as a photoreceptor for photosynthesis. Photoreceptors absorb light energy, while chlorophyll specifically absorbs energy from sunlight. Chlorophyll is what makes plants and algae appear green because it reflects the green wavelengths in sunlight while absorbing all other colors.
Measuring blue-green algae
Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are the only phytoplankton that contain phycocyanin and phycoerythrin, making these pigments a good indicator of the amount of cyanobacteria in a body of water. While chlorophyll measurements can be used to estimate overall phytoplankton populations as a whole, the auxiliary pigments phycocyanin and phycoerythrin can be measured to specifically estimate cyanobacterial concentrations. Marine cyanobacteria contain higher levels of phycoerythrin, while freshwater species contain large amounts of phycocyanin.
Like the chlorophyll sensor, the cyanobacteria sensor relies on fluorescence to detect pigment concentration. Phycoerythrin sensors use wavelengths around 540 nm, while phycocyanin sensors emit at 600 nm50. Due to differences in secondary pigment concentrations between species, it is recommended to use phycocyanin BGA sensors for freshwater applications and phycoerythrin BGA sensors for saltwater applications49,50.
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