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Why oxygen dissolved in water is important

Why Dissolved Oxygen is Important

Dissolved oxygen

The dissolved oxygen (DO) is oxygen that is dissolved in water. The oxygen dissolves by diffusion from the surrounding air; aeration of water that has tumbled over falls and rapids; and as a waste product of photosynthesis. An simplified formula is given below:

Photosynthesis (in the presence of light and chlorophyll):

Carbon dioxide






Carbon-rich foods





Fish and aquatic animals cannot split oxygen from water (H2O) or other oxygen-containing compounds. Only green plants and some bacteria can do that through photosynthesis and similar processes. Virtually all the oxygen we breath is manufactured by green plants. A total of three-fourths of the earth’s oxygen supply is produced by phytoplankton in the oceans.

The temperature effect

If water is too warm, there may not be enough oxygen in it. When there are too many bacteria or aquatic animal in the area, they may overpopulate, using DO in great amounts.

Oxygen levels also can be reduced through overfertilization of water plants by run-off from farm fields containing phosphates and nitrates (the ingredients in fertilizers). Under these conditions, the numbers and size of water plants increase. Then, if the weather becomes cloudy for several days, respiring plants will use much of the available DO. When these plants die, they become food for bacteria, which in turn multiply and use large amounts of oxygen. And this depleting all the oxygen.

How much DO an aquatic organism needs depends upon its species, its physical state, water temperature, pollutants present, and more. Consequently, it’s impossible to accurately predict minimum DO levels for specific fish and aquatic animals. For example, at 5 oC (41 oF), trout use about 50-60 milligrams (mg) of oxygen per hour; at 25 oC (77 oF), they may need five or six times that amount. Fish are cold-blooded animals. They use more oxygen at higher temperatures because their metabolic rates increase.

Numerous scientific studies suggest that 4-5 parts per million (ppm) of DO is the minimum amount that will support a large, diverse fish population. The DO level in good fishing waters generally averages about 9.0 parts per million (ppm).

In the graph below you can see the effect of the temperature in the DO

Environmental Impact

Total dissolved gas concentrations in water should not exceed 110 percent. Concentrations above this level can be harmful to aquatic life. Fish in waters containing excessive dissolved gases may suffer from "gas bubble disease"; however, this is a very rare occurrence. The bubbles or emboli block the flow of blood through blood vessels causing death. External bubbles (emphysema) can also occur and be seen on fins, on skin and on other tissue. Aquatic invertebrates are also affected by gas bubble disease but at levels higher than those lethal to fish.

Adequate dissolved oxygen is necessary for good water quality. Oxygen is a necessary element to all forms of life. Natural stream purification processes require adequate oxygen levels in order to provide for aerobic life forms. As dissolved oxygen levels in water drop below 5.0 mg/l, aquatic life is put under stress. The lower the concentration, the greater the stress. Oxygen levels that remain below 1-2 mg/l for a few hours can result in large fish kills.

Biologically speaking, however, the level of oxygen is a much more important measure of water quality than feacal coliform. Dissolved oxygen is absolutely essential for the survival of all aquatic organisms ( not only fish but also invertebrates suach as crabs, clams, zooplankton, etc). Moreover, oxygen affects a vast number of other water indicators, not only biochemical but esthetic ones like the odor, clarity and taste. Consequently, oxygen is perhaps the most well-established indicator of water quality.

River pollution

In the graph below you can see the percentage levels of Oxygen dissolved in the river "The Thames" in the period (1890-1974), The New York harbor in the period (1910-1997), and the river "The Rhine" in the period (1945-1997).Here we can see how the oxygen levels for some of the majors rivers have returned to the previous high levels after decades of low levels. This has consequences for both marine organisms and humans. The increased levels of percentage of dissolved oxygen have improved the possibilities of aquatic live.

Source: The Skeptical environmentalist; measuring the real state of the world. Author: Bjorn Lomborg

How Dissolved Oxygen Affects Water Supplies

A high DO level in a community water supply is good because it makes drinking water taste better. However, high DO levels speed up corrosion in water pipes. For this reason, industries use water with the least possible amount of dissolved oxygen. Water used in very low pressure boilers have no more than 2.0 ppm of DO, but most boiler plant operators try to keep oxygen levels to 0.007 ppm or less.

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