About ICP Analysis for Saltwater Aquariums

So, why should you do ICP-Mass Spec analysis? What will it do for you and your corals?

How it Works

ICP-Mass Spec is not the most commonly used method in the aquarium world. The instrument we use is usually used to do testing to comply with the EPA regulations in environmental issues, so its reliability is without question. To start, ICP stands for Inductive Couple Plasma. What it does is simple - it injects a sample, in this case saltwater, into a plasma chamber that is approximately 10,000 degrees. This extreme temperature breaks everything in the sample apart into the basic elements. Every element is released at a specific wave length. We can then tell the concentration of the element by how much energy is released at that specific wave length. This process allows every element to be picked up from just a few drops of water.  


What ICP Does for You

Now that you what the ICP does, what does it mean to you? In a nut shell we know our corals need certain elements to survive, reproduce, grow and color up.  Common titration test kits allow us to measure Ca (calcium), Mg (magnesium), K (potassium) and some of the trace elements in the water. You might be asking yourself why you want to know about these trace elements? The answer is growth and color of your coral.  We have all gotten pretty good at getting the big 3 (Ca, Mg, and alkalinity) levels dialed in and getting a low nutrient tank for coral growth.  However we never seem to be able to get close to the coral growth that Mother Nature provides. We have the major elements and the lighting down, allowing our corals do okay, but not nearly as well when compared to Mother Nature.  This is due to the trace elements. Research has already shown that trace elements are necessary for growth and color of our corals, the problem has always been that the tests we buy on the store shelf are only so accurate. ICP-Mass Spec is going to test our elements down to the part per billion, ppb, and parts per million, ppm. 


How to Use ICP Testing

Trace element levels found on a web site are not always accurate. Additionally, you do not know how the water was tested. We had natural sea water shipped in to us from various parts of the world to be tested directly. These samples were collected by individuals we know, and we tested them personally on the ICP-Mass Spec - the same machine we use to test your water from your aquarium. So you know you will have a reliable comparison and levels strive for in your home.

It is now feasible and cost effective to dial your aquarium in with all the trace elements your corals need and see how fast your corals start soaking these elements up.  Since this is a new way for many, I have a few suggestions. 

  • Test once a week for the first 4 weeks 
  • After these first 4 weeks, test every 2-4 weeks

This will allow you to have a base point of reference of your aquarium and what your aquarium is deficient in. By testing every week, you will start to see how fast your corals are absorbing the trace elements, which will allow for proper dosing.


To get started on ICP Analysis now, see our product page.