Water Chemistry...I'm In My Element
As we are slowly acquiring new coral within our 12 gallon (45 L) nano aquarium, it is becoming essential to monitor the water parameters within our system. These values are imperative towards coral health & can be an indicator when issues arise within the aquarium. Especially within a nano system in which dramatic fluctuations can happen suddenly. Water chemistry within reef tanks can quickly become confusing and leave you feeling like a toddler sinking in the deep end of the pool. Well allow us to toss you some water wings as we help wade through the water parameters we currently measure within our system and examine why these elements are important within a reef aquarium.
Nitrate: 0 ppm
Nitrate is the end product of the nitrogen cycle and signifies a cycled tank. The ideal reef tank should have negligible levels of nitrate. However if measurable levels of nitrate are present within the tank, it does not mean the imminent death of your fish and coral. Elevated nitrate levels though hinder coral coloration and inhibit skeletal growth. Additionally, elevated nitrates spur algae growth. We recommend keeping nitrate levels as close to zero as possible and refrain from having levels rise above 10 ppm. If you experience higher nitrate levels, investigate your feeding schedule as excess nitrogen from food will inevitably lead to nitrates. Also consider relying on the addition of protein skimmers or chateo algae to your system to assist in keeping levels down.
Ammonia: 0 ppm
Ammonia is excreted by fish and invertebrates through waste. High concentrations of ammonia can lead to burning of sensitive animal tissues. Ammonia levels should remain untraceable by standard testing kits in stable aquariums (tanks typically over 2 months old). Should you find detectable levels of ammonia, this indicates a breakdown within your nitrogen cycle which requires an evaluation of tank parameters in order to determine its cause.
Nitrite: 0 ppm
Nitrite is the intermediary step between ammonia and nitrate within the nitrogen cycle. Just as in ammonia, nitrite levels should be undetectable by standard aquarium kits. While nitrite levels are not an immediate problem to corals, once again, it does indicate a breakdown within the nitrogen cycle of the aquarium and is not typically witnessed in stable, established aquariums.
Alkalinity: 7 - 11 dKH or 2.5 - 4 meq/L (125 - 200 ppm CaCO3 equivalents)
Defining and explaining alkalinity could comprise an article all on its own (not to mention providing a powerful sedative & headache inducing agent). I will avoid the sleep aid and migraine route by trying to simplify alkalinity to its two most important aspects in relation to reef tanks.
1.) Alkalinity determines the buffering capacity of the water column. In other words, alkalinity reflects the water’s ability to resist pH swings. Higher alkalinity values provide water with a greater resistance towards pH changes. Remember that stability is key within reef aquariums and avoiding dramatic pH changes is imperative.
2.) Alkalinity also influences the calcification rates of coral. In order to maintain healthy, growing coral it is important to keep alkalinity within the suggested ranges. Alkalinity provides a measurement of bicarbonate in water which corals utiizle for their calcium carbonate skeletons.
Buffers can be utilized in order to maintain proper alkalinity levels, however, corrections should not attempt to be made in one dosing as this could cause pH swings.
Magnesium: 1250 - 1350 ppm
Magnesium’s importance to a reef aquarium is linked with calcium and alkalinity balance. Explaining the precise chemsitry behind this relationship is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Sufice to say, that magnesium’s presence within the water column allows for greater addition of calcium without lowering the alkalinity of your aquarium (don’t forget this could lead to pH swings). If you find it challenging to maintain necessary calcium or alkalinity levels within your system, lack of magnesium could be your problem.
The above parameters we regularly monitor within our nano aquarium. While these are the key elements which should be monitored frequently, there are other trace elements that provide crucial benefits to coral as well. Silica, Iron, Strontium, Iodine, and Boron are all found within seawater and provide their own unique attributes towards overall coral health. Their parameters and exact contribution towards coral will be reviewed in a future article.
Hopefully we have been able to provide some clarity to the basics of water chemistry. Several chemical tests exist on the market to assist you in determining the parameters found within your aquarium. And here you thought you would never have to titrate again past high school chemistry!
That's it for this time! Keep Krill'in!