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How to Measure Dissolved Oxygen?

How to Measure Dissolved Oxygen?


In water, oxygen gas is dissolved as dissolved oxygen (DO). It's an important indication of water quality and vital to aquatic life. Industry determines water DO testing. You may need to test DO when making beer or measuring wastewater dissolved oxygen. Water quality and aquatic ecosystem health depend on dissolved oxygen. Many aquatic species perish in dead zones caused by low DO levels.


DO levels let us measure biodegradable organic matter and biological oxygen demand in wastewater treatments. Both tests suggest water quality. Supersaturated oxygen in water is equally damaging. The atmosphere and photosynthesis produce DO in water, which is influenced by temperature, salinity, and air pressure.

Dissolved Oxygen Measurement Techniques

The measurement of dissolved oxygen levels in various environments employs a range of methods, broadly categorized into modern sensor-based techniques and traditional chemical methods. The most advanced and commonly used method involves sensors, either optical or electrochemical, known for their precision and user-friendliness. These sensors connect to meters for immediate lab readings or to data loggers and monitors for continuous observation in natural settings.

Electrochemical Sensors

Electrochemical sensors are further divided into polarographic, pulsed polarographic, and galvanic types, often integrated into smart sensor systems with digital outputs. Versatile in their application, these sensors are suitable for both laboratory analysis and long-term environmental monitoring. When recording data, dissolved oxygen meters, water quality sondes, or data loggers are employed.

Accuracy in these measurements requires compensation for environmental factors like temperature, pressure, and salinity. Adjustments can be manual or automatic, using devices equipped with thermistors for temperature measurement and options for barometric pressure adjustments. Salinity impacts are addressed through conductivity measurements or manual input. In contrast, the colorimetric method offers a simpler, albeit less precise, alternative for estimating dissolved oxygen levels, with specific procedures for different concentration ranges. The Winkler titration method, once considered the gold standard, now exists in several modified forms. Despite its historical accuracy, it is more susceptible to human error and less practical for field use.

Calibration and operational procedures vary across devices and manufacturers, emphasizing the need for consulting specific instruction manuals. Additionally, the salinity of the water, ranging from freshwater (< 0.5 ‰) to brine (> 50 ‰), with varying dissolved oxygen levels for brackish and seawater, plays a crucial role in calibration and measurement accuracy.

Titrimetric Method

This approach involves titration, a process where a solution of known concentration (the titrant) is used to determine the concentration of another solution (the sample). In the case of the Winkler Method, which employs iodometry titrations, iodine serves as an indicator, appearing or disappearing after the titration, indicating DO levels in the water sample.

Key Steps and Considerations:

● Water samples are collected and immediately treated with specific reagents to "fix" the sample, as exposure to air and agitation can alter dissolved oxygen (DO) levels.

● Utilizing a specialized BOD bottle that seals without trapping air, the titrated sample's DO concentration is measured. The accuracy of this method hinges on the proportional relationship between the titrant solution and the water sample.

Despite its historical significance, the Winkler Method is subject to inaccuracies, potential sample contamination, and human error. These limitations have spurred the development of more advanced and reliable techniques.

Galvanic Probes/Sensors

These membrane probes consist of two metal parts with different electrode potentials, functioning similarly to a battery. Oxygen diffuses through a semi-permeable membrane into a buffered electrolyte inside the probe cap, where it reacts with the cathode (typically silver), gaining an electron from the anode (usually zinc or lead). This reaction generates a voltage, allowing the connected meter to translate the current into a dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration value. One of the key benefits of galvanic sensors is their lack of a required warm-up period, thanks to self-polarization.

These advanced electroanalytical methods provide continuous and real-time measurements of DO in water, leveraging redox reactions and offering ease of use and increased accuracy over traditional methods like the Winkler Method.

Polarographic Probes/Sensors

Polarographic probes operate differently from their galvanic counterparts. They also feature a thin semi-permeable membrane, but the key distinction lies in how they function:

● Unlike galvanic probes that act like a battery, polarographic probes apply a voltage between a silver anode and a gold cathode. This voltage serves as a catalyst, prompting an oxygen reaction.

● When oxygen interacts with the cathode, it gains an electron, thus creating a current that is used to determine the DO concentration.

Polarographic sensors are further classified into steady-state and rapid-pulsing types:

● Steady-State Sensors: These sensors allow DO measurement without the need to stir the water sample.

● Rapid-Pulsing Sensors: Similar to steady-state but with a third silver electrode added. These sensors operate intermittently, allowing oxygen to replenish at the cathode surface. This pulsing action negates the need for stirring the sample.

Both types rely on a constant voltage to polarize the electrons and measure DO.


Colorimetric Method

This method is based on color changes triggered by chemical reactions and comes in two variations: Indigo Carmine and the Rhodazine D method.

Indigo Carmine Method

Suitable for measuring DO concentrations between 0.2 and 15 ppm. It produces a blue color, the intensity of which correlates with the DO concentration. This method requires protection from bright light to preserve the reagent and is not influenced by salinity, temperature, or other dissolved gases. However, certain substances like ferric iron and nitrate can affect its accuracy. Results are typically obtained in 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the concentration range.

Rhodazine D Method

Designed for much lower DO concentrations (ppb levels), this method reacts with dissolved oxygen (DO) to produce a rose-colored or pink solution. While it is robust against interference from salinity or sulfide, oxidizing agents can cause inaccuracies by displaying elevated DO readings. Timely analysis is critical, as the reaction should be measured within 30 seconds of adding the reagent.



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