Performance Evaluation of Five Turbidity Sensors in Three Primary Standards

Open-File Report 2015-1172


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Five commercially available turbidity sensors were evaluated by the U.S. Geological Survey, Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility (HIF) for accuracy and precision in three types of turbidity standards; formazin, StablCal, and AMCO Clear (AMCO–AEPA). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes all three turbidity standards as primary standards, meaning they are acceptable for reporting purposes. The Forrest Technology Systems (FTS) DTS-12, the Hach SOLITAX sc, the Xylem EXO turbidity sensor, the Yellow Springs Instrument (YSI) 6136 turbidity sensor, and the Hydrolab Series 5 self-cleaning turbidity sensor were evaluated to determine if turbidity measurements in the three primary standards are comparable to each other, and to ascertain if the primary standards are truly interchangeable. A formazin 4000 nephelometric turbidity unit (NTU) stock was purchased and dilutions of 40, 100, 400, 800, and 1000 NTU were made fresh the day of testing. StablCal and AMCO Clear (for Hach 2100N) standards with corresponding concentrations were also purchased for the evaluation. Sensor performance was not evaluated in turbidity levels less than 40 NTU due to the unavailability of polymer-bead turbidity standards rated for general use. The percent error was calculated as the true (not absolute) difference between the measured turbidity and the standard value, divided by the standard value.

The sensors that demonstrated the best overall performance in the evaluation were the Hach SOLITAX and the Hydrolab Series 5 turbidity sensor when the operating range (0.001–4000 NTU for the SOLITAX and 0.1–3000 NTU for the Hydrolab) was considered in addition to sensor accuracy and precision. The average percent error in the three standards was 3.80 percent for the SOLITAX and -4.46 percent for the Hydrolab. The DTS-12 also demonstrated good accuracy with an average percent error of 2.02 percent and a maximum relative standard deviation of 0.51 percent for the operating range, which was limited to 0.01–1600 NTU at the time of this report. Test results indicated an average percent error of 19.81 percent in the three standards for the EXO turbidity sensor and 9.66 percent for the YSI 6136. The significant variability in sensor performance in the three primary standards suggests that although all three types are accepted as primary calibration standards, they are not interchangeable, and sensor results in the three types of standards are not directly comparable.

Suggested Citation

Snazelle, T.T, 2015, Performance evaluation of five turbidity sensors in three primary standards: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1172, 14 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of Turbidity Sensors
  • Description of Turbidity Standards
  • Test Procedures
  • Test Results
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Performance Evaluation of Five Turbidity Sensors in Three Primary Standards
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1172
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151172
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Office of Surface Water
Description iv, 14 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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