An evaluation of potentiometric pH sensors in coastal monitoring applications

McLaughlin, K, Nezlin NP, Weisberg SB, Dickson AG, Booth JA, Cash CL, Feit A, Gully JR, Johnson S, Latker A, Mengel MJ, Robertson GL, Steele A, Terriquez L.  2017.  An evaluation of potentiometric pH sensors in coastal monitoring applications. Limnology and Oceanography-Methods. 15:679-689.

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Alkalinity, calibration, chemistry, dissolved inorganic carbon, ion concentration scale, m-cresol purple, media, ocean-acidification, sea-water, seawater-ph


A wealth of historical coastal water pH data has been collected using potentiometric glass electrodes, but the accuracy and stability of these sensors is poorly understood. Here we compared pH measurements from five potentiometric sensors incorporated into profiling Sea-Bird instrument packages and compared them to spectrophotometric measurements on discrete bottle samples collected at two to three depths associated with each cast. Differences ranged from -0.509 to +0.479 with a mean difference of -0.055 pH units. Ninety-two percent of the measurements were within +/- 0.2 pH units, but 1% of the measurements had differences greater than 0.322. Sensor performance was affected by depth, but most of the difference was associated with calibration shortcomings. Sensor drift within a day was negligible; moreover, differences between bottle samples and electrode measurements within a sampling day were smaller than differences across days. Bootstrap analysis indicated that conducting a daily in situ calibration would reduce the mean difference to 0.002 pH units and increase the number of samples within a 0.2 pH unit error to 98%.