Freshwater phytoplankton quantification by chlorophyll a: a comparative study of in vitro, in vivo and in situ methods

Water Res. 2004 Feb;38(3):517-22. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2003.10.033.


Standard ISO method for chlorophyll a quantification (extraction into ethanol, spectrophotometrical quantification at 665 and 750 nm), spectrofluorometry (reader for 96 wells, excitation 410 nm, emission 670 nm), and a submersible fluorescence probe for in situ phytoplankton quantification (excitation 410, 525, 570, 590, and 610 nm, emission 685 nm) were compared in different freshwater environments-reservoirs and rivers. The ISO method is accepted as a standard method but requires sample handling and transport to the laboratory. Spectrofluorometry is a sensitive method, even for natural phytoplankton populations. Nevertheless, it cannot be recommended for the quantification of cyanobacterial water blooms because colonial and filamentous species such as Microcystis, Anabaena, or Aphanizomenon display unacceptable variability (18-33%). The submersible probe featured high correlation with a standard ISO method (r=0.97, P<0.05). This probe can provide the selective measurement of technologically important phytoplankton groups like cyanobacteria, diatoms, green algae, and cryptophytes in lake vertical profiles of up to 100 m. The limitation of this instrument is the possible reabsorption of the light signal, e.g. in the presence of humic substances, or dense algal blooms. The use of submersible probes for in situ phytoplankton quantification can be recommended as a sensitive tool for water management, especially in the case of drinking water resources.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Chlorophyll / analysis*
  • Chlorophyll A
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Eutrophication*
  • Fluorescence
  • Phytoplankton / chemistry*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Rivers
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Water Supply


  • Chlorophyll
  • Chlorophyll A