Measuring Protons with Photons: A Hand-Held, Spectrophotometric pH Analyzer for Ocean Acidification Research, Community Science and Education

Sensors (Basel). 2022 Oct 18;22(20):7924. doi: 10.3390/s22207924.


Ocean Acidification (OA) is negatively affecting the physiological processes of marine organisms, altering biogeochemical cycles, and changing chemical equilibria throughout the world's oceans. It is difficult to measure pH broadly, in large part because accurate pH measurement technology is expensive, bulky, and requires technical training. Here, we present the development and evaluation of a hand-held, affordable, field-durable, and easy-to-use pH instrument, named the pHyter, which is controlled through a smartphone app. We determine the accuracy of pH measurements using the pHyter by comparison with benchtop spectrophotometric seawater pH measurements, measurement of a certified pH standard, and comparison with a proven in situ instrument, the iSAMI-pH. These results show a pHyter pH measurement accuracy of ±0.046 pH or better, which is on par with interlaboratory seawater pH measurement comparison experiments. We also demonstrate the pHyter's ability to conduct both temporal and spatial studies of coastal ecosystems by presenting data from a coral reef and a bay, in which the pHyter was used from a kayak. These studies showcase the instrument's portability, applicability, and potential to be used for community science, STEM education, and outreach, with the goal of empowering people around the world to measure pH in their own backyards.

Keywords: chemical sensor; coastal ocean monitoring; colorimetric pH measurement; meta-cresol purple; science education.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Ecosystem*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Photons
  • Protons
  • Seawater* / chemistry


  • Protons
  • Carbon Dioxide