A submersible autonomous sensor for spectrophotometric pH measurements of natural waters

Martz, TR, Carr JJ, French CR, DeGrandpre MD.  2003.  A submersible autonomous sensor for spectrophotometric pH measurements of natural waters. Analytical Chemistry. 75:1844-1850.

Date Published:



acidification, calibration, carbon, electrodes, environment, fresh-water, purple, red, seawater ph


An autonomous sensor for long-term in situ measurements of the pH of natural waters is described. The system is based upon spectrophotometric measurements of a mixture of sample and sulfonephthalein indicator. A simple plumbing design, using a small, low-power solenoid pump and valve, avoids the need for quantitative addition of indicator. A similar to50-muL slug of indicator is pulled into the sample stream by the pump, and subsequent pumping and mixing results in a section of indicator and sample where absorbance measurements can be made. The design also permits direct determination of the indicator pH perturbation. Absorbances are recorded at three wavelengths (439, 579, and 735 nm) using a custom-built 1.7-cm path length fiber-optic flow cell. Solution blanks are obtained by periodically flushing the cell with sample. Field tests were performed in a local river over an 8-day period. The in situ accuracy, based on comparison with laboratory spectrophotometric pH measurements, was -0.003 pH unit (n = 16), similar to the measurement precision. No drift was observed during the 8-day period. The absorbance ratio used to calculate pH, in combination with a simple and robust optical design, imparts an inherent stability not achievable with conventional potentiometric methods, making the design feasible for long-term autonomous pH measurements.