In situ tryptophan-like fluorometers: assessing turbidity and temperature effects for freshwater applications†
Tryptophan-like fluorescence (TLF) is an indicator of human influence on water quality as TLF peaks are associated with the input of labile organic carbon (e.g. sewage or farm waste) and its microbial breakdown. Hence, real-time measurement of TLF could be particularly useful for monitoring water quality at a higher temporal resolution than available hitherto. However, current understanding of TLF quenching/interference is limited for field deployable sensors. We present results from a rigorous test of two commercially available submersible tryptophan fluorometers (ex ∼ 285, em ∼ 350). Temperature quenching and turbidity interference were quantified in the laboratory and compensation algorithms developed. Field trials were then undertaken involving: (i) an extended deployment (28 days) in a small urban stream; and, (ii) depth profiling of an urban multi-level borehole. TLF was inversely related to water temperature (regression slope range: −1.57 to −2.50). Sediment particle size was identified as an important control on the turbidity specific TLF response, with signal amplification apparent <150 NTU for clay particles and <650 NTU for silt particles. Signal attenuation was only observed >200 NTU for clay particles. Compensation algorithms significantly improved agreement between in situ and laboratory readings for baseflow and storm conditions in the stream. For the groundwater trial, there was an excellent agreement between laboratory and raw in situ TLF; temperature compensation provided only a marginal improvement, and turbidity corrections were unnecessary. These findings highlight the potential utility of real time TLF monitoring for a range of environmental applications (e.g. tracing polluting sources and monitoring groundwater contamination). However, in situations where high/variable suspended sediment loads or rapid changes in temperature are anticipated concurrent monitoring of turbidity and temperature is required and site specific calibration is recommended for long term, surface water monitoring.