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Encyclopedia > Secchi disk
Secchi disk pattern Secchi disk pattern

Created in 1865 by Pietro Angelo Secchi, the Secchi disk is a device used to measure water transparency in open waters of lakes, bays, and the ocean. The pattern shown in the image is drawn or painted onto a card or acrylic, mounted on a pole or line, and lowered slowly down in the water. The depth at which the pattern on the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water. This measure is known as the Secchi depth and is related to water turbidity.

Secchi disk readings do not provide an exact measure of transparency, as there can be errors due to the sun's glare on the water, or one person may see the disk at one depth, but another, with better eyesight, may see it at a greater depth. However a Secchi disk is an inexpensive and straight-forward method of measuring water clarity. Because of the potential for variation between practitioners, methods should be standardized as much as possible. A Secchi disk measurement should always be taken off the shady side of a boat or dock between 9 AM and 3 PM (Lind, 1979). According to Cole (1994), the period for best results is between 10 AM and 2 PM. The same observer should take secchi depth measurements in the same manner every time.

One can approach the measurement by lowering the disk beyond a point of disappearance, then raising it and lowering it slightly to set the Secchi depth. Another method is to record the depth at which the disk disappears, lower another few feet, then record the depth at which the disk reappears as it is slowly brought up. The Secchi depth is taken as the average of the two values.

Secchi disk measurements have been an integral component of Minnesota's lake water quality assessment programs for some time; lake residents make periodic measurements and submit their readings to state and local agencies. The aggregated longitudinal data are used to reveal general trends in water quality.

Scientifically accurate measurements of turbidity are performed using a nephelometer.

External links

  • Secchi Disk Transparency (http://www.cee.vt.edu/program_areas/environmental/teach/smprimer/secchi/secchi.html)
  • EPA OWOW (http://www.epa.gov/volunteer/stream/155.html)


  • Cole, Gerald A. (1994). Textbook of Limnology. 4th ed. Waveland Press Inc., Prospect Heights
  • Lind, Owen, T. (1979). Handbook of Common Methods in Limnology. C.V. Mosby Co., St. Louis.

  Results from FactBites:
A Secchi Disk is Used to Measure Water Clarity (452 words)
Secchi disk measurements tend to be easier and quicker using a rod or pipe versus a rope or chain, except when water is very clear.
Secchi disk measurements are most accurate when taken on relatively calm, sunny days during the middle of the day from a dock or some type of floating device such as a boat, float tube, air mattress or life preserver.
Secchi disk measurements provide objective means to evaluate water clarity versus subjective statements such as "It is clear," or "It is muddy." One person's clear water may be another person's muddy water.
  More results at FactBites »



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