What Is Electrical Conductivity And Why Is It Important?

Electrical Conductivity Definition

Electrical conductivity in water, is defined by the ability for a fluid to pass an electrical current. For example, if you were to compare drinking water with seawater you would find that the conductivity level of seawater is much higher. Contributing factors to this can be material or sediment in the water, such as salt. However, these can also be contaminants which can have a harmful effect on animals and human health.

Conductivity is measured using a unit called siemens (S). because cell geometry influences conductivity values these values are typically presented as S/cm. The value for conductivity is often provided in two basic formats, these are actual and specific conductivity. Actual conductivity will provide the reading of conductivity at the temperature of the measured sample. For example, if you are measuring a water sample and the temperature of this is 10 degc, the conductivity reading will be given at this temperature. However, if you were looking at a specific conductivity reading this would have been corrected to provide a reading based on a sample at 25 degc or 20 degc. In most cases when discussing conductivity people will talk about specific conductivity. The reason for this is it allows for the comparison of conductivity between different locations and at different times, where temperature differences will most likely be present.

Why Is Electrical Conductivity Important?

Electrical conductivity is an especially useful parameter to measure when undertaking environmental or process monitoring. The measurement of this parameter can identify so many different changes. For example, in groundwater applications conductivity can be used to identify saltwater intrusion, while it can also be used in freshwater environments to determine pollution events. Typically, the parameter works best when used to determine that there is something present causing a change to the water quality, however, it may not always be able to determine the exact cause of the change. When used alongside other parameters the causes for the change can be identified in more detail. This makes the measurement of conductivity great for initial studies or when deciding where best to focus your monitoring activities. More information on measuring the conductivity of water can be found here.

Which parameters can be calculated from conductivity?

Two commonly derived parameters from the measurement of conductivity are TDS and salinity. TDS or total dissolved solids is a measurement of the concentration of solids dissolved in the water, these can be inorganic salts or organic matter. Salinity, by comparison, is the measurement of the concentration levels of dissolved salts in water, this is especially important when monitoring water to ensure a specific salinity level for aquatic life in industries such as aquaculture.

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