The beam attenuation coefficient is an optical parameter that sensitively depends on suspended and dissolved substances in water. Its measurement is not only of interest for an understanding of the radiative transfer in a water column. With appropriate algorithms for data interpretation, it also allows a fast determination of absorbing and scattering matter as time-series measurements or depth profiles that cannot easily be obtained with other methods. An instrument has been developed for measuring spectral attenuation coefficients over a wavelength range from 340 to 785 nm. The optical path length can be set between 0 and 400 mm. This allows application in a wide range of turbidity in coastal and inland (case 2 and case 3) waters and a calibration of the instrument during in-situ measurements. This makes the instrument suitable for long-term applications in which signals from conventional instruments would degrade owing to the biofouling of optical windows. From the data, the amount and the size distribution of suspended particles and the specific absorption of dissolved organic matter are derived in real time. Algorithms based on Monte Carlo methods are available for a classification of transparent particles and phytoplankton.
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