Aquatic Plant Forum banner

Organics Analysis

108467 Views 450 Replies 29 Participants Last post by  Yorkie
The purpose of this thread is to (1) try to gather samples and data on the amount of organic pollution (i.e. Demand) that people have in their aquarium and (2) see if there is a correlation between the amount of organics measured (as TOC) and algae growth, specifically BBA.

The topic of 'organics' in the aquarium as a pollutant has always been very vague ... Often times, people talk about 'organics' as a problem in the aquarium but if you ask them about specific values of organics that cause problems or are acceptable or ask for specific articles about organic pollution level studies, most people are not able to provide any values or specifics. Instead they just wave their hands in the air and mumble generalizations like 'organics are bad and need to be as low as possible'.... how low is good? how high is bad? What are the average concentration values? Is there actually a correlation at all? That is the goal of this thread - to try to put generate analytical data on organic pollution (as TOC) and see if there is indeed a correlation between TOC concentrations and algae.

According to the Standard Methods Handbook, there are many ways to measure 'aggregated organic constituents' or 'organic pollution'. COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) is the most common method of measurement and is defined as the amount of a specified oxidant that reacts with the sample under controlled conditions. Other methods of organic pollution analysis include BOD (Biologcial oxygen demand), TOC (total organic carbon) and TOD (total oxygen demand).

I would like to gather and analyse samples for organic analysis for their TOC content in order to see if there is indeed a correlation between the TOC of a particular aquarium and the presence of algae, specifically BBA. I work for an environmental laboratory, one of the instruments we have is a TOC analyzer (total organic carbon). This is a machine that measures the carbon containing compounds in your water by converting the carbon to CO2 and measuring the CO2 via an IR detector. Basically, there are two steps. In the first step, the sample is acidified. This converts all the inorganic carbon (HCO3- and CO3--) to CO2 and the amount of CO2 is determined. This portion is the TIC (total inorganic carbon). In the second step, an oxidant is added to the sample to decompose all of the organic carbon to CO2 and, again, the CO2 is detected. This portion is the TOC (total organic carbon).

If you are interested in participating and sending me samples for analysis, I ask that you collect and label your samples with the following information:

Name, Date of Collection, Aquarium Name (if you have multiple aquariums, usually the size), BBA present or not, CO2 injection or not, Water change frequency (and when your sample was collected with regards to them)

Also, be sure to include a sample of your source water (tap, RO water, RO water reconstituted).

For convenience sake, please collect samples in a DOUBLE SEALED ziplock sandwich sized bag, ~1/4 to ~1/2 full. Remove as much air as possible from the bags and seal the opening with packaging tape (or any other heavy duty tape like duct (or duck) tape, not scotch tape). Place all of the water samples into a larger gallon size ziplock bag for extra protection in case the bags leak. If you need or want to collect multiple samples over time, please refrigerate all samples for storage in order to minimize the amount of TOC degredation. Please PM me for shipping information.

I will analyze the samples and organize the results into a table format so we can then all analyze the data. If you would like your data to be presented as anonymous, please just include a note with your samples and i will report them on this forum as anonymous (but i need to know the actual name in order make sure i receive your samples and for proper sample tracking.)

Disclaimer. This analysis is for personal use only and all results may not be used for compliance testing and monitoring or legal use. I will not be held responsible for sample shipping, sample contamination and any loses that may occur.
See less See more
1 - 20 of 451 Posts
Can't wait to find out. I've got a tank with a BBA issue. And another one with hair/clado. Will send you samples soon.

This time with tracking...
Great idea! Subscribed! I would love to have my tanks tested, they would be great for comparison. I've 1 BBA tank, 1 clean and 1 always balancing at the edge. Unfortunate, I live in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, I hope lots of people send you samples. For all people sending in a BBA infested tank sample, make sure it is still growing. BBA can remain in a tank very long even when the water is clean IME.
I've got one with GDA and GSA, but no BBA. I could send you a sample if you want.
It would be interesting to see the differences between tanks and what type of algae. Perhaps you can post a close up photo of the algae as well then we can match up the water test records to each photo and really build a substantial database.
I got a tank which has only fish, sand, and water. No plants. There is always Cladophora growing on the substrate. Over the last 2 years I have been able to run the tank in two very different modes. It is perfectly predictable and I think that the predictablity makes it a great candidate for the "organics" experiment. Here are the two states:

A. If I do big water changes (50-65%) every two days the Clado stops growing but does not disappear. The N and P stabilize - N is about 5 and the P is about 0.4. Interesting to note that this is a perfect Redfield ratio. After a few days (3 days more or less) BBA gets easily removed (unlike healthy BBA which is almost impossible to scrape) and eventually disintegrates by itself if I don't bother scraping it.
One visual change is the clarity of the water. In this state a day after the water change the water is perfectly clear despite the fact that in both big filters I have only coarse lava rock which is by no means a mechanical filter. There is no other filters on that tank. At times, but not every day if you look through the tank from the side (through 6' of water) it looks like the fish are suspended in thin air.

B. If I stop the water changes the Clado starts to grow and eventually BBA appears (about 3-4 weeks after I stop water changes). Through water changes I have stopped the growth of both algae through water changes countless times. But I have not tested the N and P in that dirty state. Only one time I tested for N and P and found that P was way more than the N - in the ranges of P=3 and N=2.
In that state the water is clean but it has a lot of small particles floating in the water. Looked from the side through 6' of water the water looks a bit opalescent as if you dropped a few drops of milk in it so the lack of perfect clarity is not only due only to the visible floating particles.

I described the above situations as A and B because I want to hear if it makes sense to send you samples from both tank states or we should do something else. Just taking a snapshot of only state A or state B will not tell us much in my opinion. What do you think?

Another aspect would be to look at the impact of the fish food. I refuse to believe that it all boils down to N and P. There has got to be something else too: If I feed frozen blood worms the Clado grows the fastest. It grows a bit slower if I feed ground hamburger meat. Even slower with frozen brine shrimp. Slowest growth is with dry flake food (brine shrimp only flakes).

Right now the tank is in A state - super clean. Should I send you a sample to start with and then I let it go to state B and send you another sample? I will continue feeding the same kind of food and keep the same light and lighting schedule so at least those factors should be consistent. I guess I should also measure the amount of food I'm giving - I got a scale for that.

Another factor to maybe consider is the season. In the past people have noticed that BBA tends to show up right about now - in autumn (and I think in spring) - in tanks all over the US. Not sure if that's an easily accountable factor but I think we should keep it in mind.
See less See more
I got a tank which has only fish, sand, and water .... It is perfectly predictable and I think that the predictablity makes it a great candidate for the "organics" experiment. Here are the two states:

A. [Blah Blah Blah - Good aquarium state because i do regular maintenance] ....

B. [Blah Blah Blah - Bad aquarium state because i'm a slacker and/or like to feed my fish unhealthy snacks like doritos, tofu, velveeta and hot dogs] ....
I think this is a fine example of when samples should be taken and analyzed. Now, this is also a good example of where some "Guru" will chime in and in their infinite wisdom (probably from TPT) say something along the lines of "Of course you have algae - you stopped loving and maintaining your tank. Love is equivalent to water changes and little organics (waves hands in the air)."

My response to this "Guru" will be "Fine - please send me samples so i can measure how much 'love' your tanks have (or don't have) so we can help establish a baseline for organics in aquariums as measured by TOC".

I can analyze samples for TOC analysis for any experiment you want as long as you send me samples that are clearly collected, labeled and stored so that anyone looking at the table of results can also interpret the results.
I don't see where is a guru going to jump out of because this hobby has no gurus any more. In the last decade it had a few idols and that was it. I've said it before - we need an American "Amano". But I don't see any candidates. And we are all sick of impostors so the situation is indeed new. And the situation in other countries is not better. UK is a bright example of trying to create gurus but all it is is a regurgitation of the past with a lot of moves meant to look stylish using imagery dated circa 2005.

We better realize something very valuable: We are on our own. That's a great thing no matter who you think "we" are or I think "we" are. Look what happened when a guru of the past skillfully implanted in our heads the idea that there are 3 ways to make an aquascape look good. We have arrived at nothing. Well, you copy and don't understand - you arrive at nothing, what else? It looks like that journey was a necessary step in the bubbling stinky-aromatic mix of a hobby and internet where everybody is an expert, has six pack abs, and a perfectly balanced real life full of cute cats, wonderful food, one-liner insights, and amazing aquariums.

Now tell my why use ziplock bags and not plastic jars? Contamination of some sort? Postal service suspicious of jars?
Also - why isn't this topic in the "Filtration" section. It is about how clean and how dirty a tank is, isn't it?

Bla-bla, allright. This topic is VERY exciting. Something truly new and interesting. A rare thing in the world of miniature trees, hills, and passages made of white sand. And exagerated fake perspectives.
See less See more
I think APC is the one and only "guru" out there. This website really is on the cutting edge of the hobby. Other people do not share their research or findings, even Amano does not share any info he has learned by research. He shares his products for a price, but not the raw useful information. Which makes me wonder if he hasn't just happened on a formula that works but has no idea why it works.

I think this topic is fine in the algae section because we really want to get to the bottom of why algae grows.

Amanda has a few interesting tanks. They are all 2.5 gallon tanks on a shelf under the same light, but in each tank there is a different species of algae that dominates. I believe she even has the same substrate in each tank. I wonder what the differences are between each of her tanks. That would be really interesting.
I don't see where is a guru going to jump out of because this hobby has no gurus any more.
Have u ever tried to read any of the posts on TPT or Barrreport? God forbid u try to say anything wrong or question conventional wisdom there - otherwise some wanna be guru will leap out of his desk to give u the smack down because u have less posts than they do. It doesn't matter how much experience u have - u r clearly less edumacated than they r and will never reach their state of planted aquarium enlightenment...

Now tell my why use ziplock bags and not plastic jars? Contamination of some sort? Postal service suspicious of jars?

Also - why isn't this topic in the "Filtration" section. It is about how clean and how dirty a tank is, isn't it?
Because bags r flexible and easily available, I suggest them. You can use jars but I just think bags are easier up ship.

I thought about putting this in the filtration section, but that's not what this post is about. This post is ultimately about collecting data on an unwanted parameter and how it may relate to algae. That is all. There's no discussion of bio media, flow patterns or flow volumes. There will be no discussion of whether or not BBA is caused by organics or insuffient CO2 - there r other threads to discuss that. I just want to invite people to collect samples for analysis and see if we can find an actual correlation.
See less See more
Excellent thread. We might be missing some info from the samples in my thread, but that's probably a good start.
I've got one with GDA and GSA, but no BBA. I could send you a sample if you want.
Getting samples of water from tanks with no BBA is certainly just as valuable as getting samples from tanks infested with it.
I too will participate in this study. Usually I get bba and what appears to be black spot algae which cannot be rubbed off. So I trim the leaves when it appears. I think I see more of both starting to reappear. I too suspect a buildup of organics in the substrate which I believe is caused by the substrate dissolving into mud. This mud interferes with the transport of oxygen throughout the gravel. (Just my opinion). I have Eco-Complete ordered and will be breaking down my tank in a few weeks and I hope this gravel does not dissolved like the Flourite that I have. I'll be taking samples before I do.
But this time, I won't have a 4 inch substrate in the rear that's tapered to the front to 1 inch. The new setup will be 2 inches in the rear to 1 inch in the front. The reason for this is experimental. I want to be able to syphon the bottom of the tank, especially in the rear; whereas trying to dig down to 4 inches is difficult. Many say not to syphon the bottom as it disturbs the nitrification in the bed. I think we need not worry about that if we have plants. I am hoping the results over time will be positive.
This reminds me of the time I had a deep sand bed in a reef tank with fish, live rock and corals. Over time, I had a problem with hydrogen sulfide building up in the sand and one can always tell when it is released.
See less See more
where everybody is an expert, has six pack abs, and a perfectly balanced real life full of cute cats, wonderful food, one-liner insights, and amazing aquariums.
Just because I'm getting older and am getting a little soft in the middle doesn't mean you need to be mean to me Niko. ;)


This is a great idea! Why don't we go ahead and include TOC in the stuff we've talked about already? We can certainly use my new tank as a baseline "brand new/fresh start" system and see what happens along the way.

You know what? Screw the "gurus"; if you think you're right about something or have an idea that hasn't been talked about in-depth, go for it! You've got the academic and professional credentials to speak authoritatively on certain subjects. DO IT! ****, look at how many posts I've got here and at TPT; a miniscule amount for the amount of time I've been a member on each site. Yet, for some reason that I'm not quite sure of, most people don't come laying the smack down on me. You've got just as much right to speak up and present your ideas as any of us. I'm willing to bet you've got a sound hypothesis/observations and I know you've got the chem background to back up your thoughts. If they lay the proverbial smack down on you, whack 'em back!

As much as I respect Tom for what he's brought to the hobby, I've got no issues questioning or contradicting him and his cronies. You shouldn't worry either. Yeah, what he's said works and I've used his methods before with great success. That hasn't stopped me from asking for detailed reasons why he espouses certain practices. For as much as he's said he's tested, I haven't seen his results. Guess you've got to be a paying subscriber on his site to get "in the know". BAH! It's time people with the knowhow and access to the hardware got together and took a good analytical look at the things we have questions about...and then shared that info openly.
See less See more
Well said Phil.

Not convinced his group actually has all the answers. Without peer review and additional experiments by people outside of his group it is hard to believe his results are 100% accurate. .
I agree. This study and data collected by Jeff may just give us a clue as to why bba appears dispite the best efforts by aquarist's with years of experience. If one reads all the threads on this subject on other forums, then one will notice that bba can occur in high flow areas and low flow or no flow areas as well. This is what make me think that we have to take a look at the substrate. Could it be that we keep the depth of the substrate too high? Is oxygen having a difficult time moving through the substrate. What occurs if this happens? Is there something percolating under the substrate and gets released to cause bba? I think the subject of substrates as to size and depth needs to be examined.
It does happen in tanks with no substrate at all too;)
What type of tanks would these be? Water changes? How often? How much? Did these tanks have plants?
I have not noticed any bba in dealer holding tanks. I'll look closer on my next visit.
Which still brings us back to this analysis. Is there a specific level of DOC or DIC that favors bba?
Dealer holding tank hopefully get lots of large water changes and are not likely to get it. Our lfs has WC's automated, never seen much BBA since. But before, the upper row with discus tanks where no substrate was, did get some BBA when the bottoms were not cleaned and they were fed too much. This is how I started to believe in BBA and organics/rotting.
It appears we are on the same page. For instance; when fish waste and uneaten food works its way down into the gravel, then it become difficult to syphon it all out, especially in deep gravel. Unless one digs down into it which some aquarist's say not to do and to just vacuum the surface. I have to disagree. Disturbing the gravel does not harm the nitrifying bacteria. they demand oxygen to break down this waste. The same thing happens in bare bottom tanks that are not cleaned. problems can develop.
Many do not want to dig into the gravel because it clouds up the tank and may take a day or more before the water clears up. This clouding effect is mostly from the gravel breaking down into fine particles. Seachems Flourite is one that constantly breaks down. The solution is to find a gravel that does not break down into dust and is easily syphoned without picking up the gravel.
1 - 20 of 451 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.