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Tangled Up In… Green?

Posted by David Brumbaugh on Wed, July 30, 2014 @ 2:00 PM

HABWe see it all too often here at Beagle.  Ponds, lakes, and rivers are being overrun with algae everywhere you go.  Streaks, clumps, and scums of algae appear like stains on your large picture window overlooking the water.  It’s ugly.  It’s slimy.  Sometimes it even smells.  Something needs to be done, but you don’t know where to start.

Beagle has always aimed to stress the importance of vigilant monitoring in the ongoing struggle with harmful algal blooms.  We believe that any management scheme must begin with learning about the problem that needs to be solved.  That’s why Beagle provides the support you need to start and continue monitoring your water, from tools like fluorometers and pigment calibrators to services like algae identification and toxin testing.

Chlorophyll is a naturally fluorescent molecule that can be measured in an environmental water sample.  Using raw water samples is fine for understanding the relative amounts of chlorophyll in a lake over time, but chlorophyll is a hydrophobic molecule and the fluorescence of chlorophyll can read up to 10x lower in water than in an organic solvent.  This is just one challenge in attempts to quantify the productivity of an aquatic system using chlorophyll as an indicator of the primary producers such as algae and blue-green algae.  To better understand the abundance of phytoplankton in a lake sample, the chlorophyll can be extracted from the cells with acetone and more accurately measured with a fluorometer that has been calibrated with an acetone-based chlorophyll calibrator.

There is much disagreement on how a chlorophyll extraction should be performed and even widely accepted procedures can have big differences.  While 90% acetone is most often the preferred extraction solvent, some methods call for additives like magnesium carbonate or ammonium hydroxide.  Cell lysis methods vary widely as well… some rely solely on the acetone’s chemical ability to compromise the cell, while others employ physical processes like freeze/thaw cycles, sonication or tissue grinding.  Some suggest that the cell fragments need not be removed from the extract, while others use filtration or even centrifugation to remove any solid debris.  And, all of this is before one even considers correcting the results for pheophytin (a product of chlorophyll degradation) or turbidity, which may or may not be necessary.

Beagle's Chlorophyll Extraction Kit

Beagle’s Chlorophyll Field Extraction Kit

I fully understand if your head is swimming after all of that.  But, we are here to make it easy on you.  Beagle has developed a new tool, the Chlorophyll Field Extraction Kit , which provides nearly all of the pieces needed to prepare a quantifiable chlorophyll sample while out by the lake.  The lightweight kit is designed to be as quick and easy as possible.   The materials needed for the extraction are kept to a minimum to limit the complexity of the process.  Plus, Beagle includes a recommended extraction protocol (with pictures!) in each kit, and researchers can modify this protocol to suit their preferences.   This kit is just one tool that one might use in a monitoring program that can help you get a handle on your algae problem,  and at Beagle we hope you’ll give us a call if we can help you piece together other aspects of a robust monitoring program.  Maybe, just maybe, we can help untangle you from all that green.

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