Phytoplankton (algae) cells are floating, suspended, microscopic small and vegetable organisms. The concentration and type of species determine the ecological water quality to an important extent. Water agencies are therefore interested how the growth of different types of phytoplankton is developing in natural waters.
Phytoplankton (the so called autotrophic cells) enables the synthesis of organic substances from carbon dioxide and anorganic substances dissolved in water by using the photosynthesic process. They form the primary basis in the food chain in fresh as well as in marine waters. Phytoplankton represents an important source for all kinds of animals such as zooplankton and water filtering organisms. These higher organisms represents the source for higher organisms such as fish and seal.
Some algae cause problems in terms of toxicity, foam forming, oxygen depletion, bad smell, decrease of biodiversity, if they are at very high concentration (algae blooms) and some already at lower concentration. These harmful blooms are seen along the coast e.g. by foaming layers (caused by Phaeocystis products) on the water or beach, by floating layers of algae on the surface of water (e.g. cyanobacteria Microcystis), by the production of toxic substances or by the bad smell. Blue algae or cyanobacteria are a well known example of harmful blooming species, which can grow fast during good weather and which suddenly cause water quality problems.
Phytoplankton monitoring, the collection of samples and the analyses of them, is hampered by some practical aspects: the sampling in the field needs a boat and people to collect samples, samples need to be brought to a laboratory for analysis (but ‘living’ samples change within hours) and the analysis is labour intensive (> 1 hour per sample) and needs a taxonomic expert (not many available).
All above mentioned aspects are solved by a rather new monitoring development, the full automatic high performance phytoplankton analysis by flow cytometry. The integration of the sampling, the cytometric water analysis, the data analysis and interpretation and the real time reportage of phytoplankton facts and figures is available and reported on a (this) website. This innovative combination of tools enables the high frequency of phytoplankon analysis and gives new perspectives in phytoplankton dynamics and understanding. It is expected that this improvement in automatic monitoring increases the quality of data and water quality assessment and will lead to a more efficient water management. This is made possible by the combination of flowcytometry (CytoBuoy bv) and realtime data processing (Thomas Rutten Projects).