Hobbyists and explorers need a tool to collect important field data. In order to do this properly and reliably, there has to be some kind of standard to measure against. The most important one being a good test kit.
We know everyone doesn’t have access to high-end Lamotte and Hach test kits, which we know are reliable and often used for scientific research. I did some checking into the reliability and accuracy of hobby level test kits on my own.
Out of the available kits I looked into Nutrafin Master Kits measured up exactly with the field kits I was using while doing testing for the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Nutrafin Master Kits are still somewhat costly but are complete and accurate. I have found that the shelf life is quite long. I have some reagents for Nutrafin which have maintained accuracy a few years past their usually assumed expiry date. So for me, it is a solid investment for any hobbyist. Also, it is easy to buy replacement bottles for anything you run through.
Lamotte and Hach are definitely accurate enough for field study but I would argue that the Nutrafin and Sera will be as well for hobbyists in the field.
Sure you will not get multiple decimal point accuracy but I don’t think that level of resolution is necessary unless doing very specific and detailed scientific research. They would be “close enough” for hobby level requirements.
If one is making a compendium of collection site data then I think the kits suffice. If one is doing a specific botanical study then they may need a high end scientific test kit.
For instance, when I was doing field study (in Ontario) it was related to wetlands reclamation and relocation and the kits we used were still quite basic, and thus my comparison with hobby level kits.
Again, in depth genetic profiling of a complete habitat and all variables therein should have detailed lab quality tests. Those sort of projects can take years.
Say a hobbyist wanting to have a general (but still detailed) idea of the parameters needed to keep a certain plant collected for “banking” purposes, then a good hobby level will do.
I was using lab grade tests supplied by the Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario for the testing they had contracted me for. I was doing testing on certain waterways over a period of 6 months.
Since some of these systems fed into our municipal water supply I was curious as to what the general readings were before and after treatment. I also wanted to use my home aquarium equipment to ensure consistency between testing at home and in the field.
I originally used one brand and noticed that it was quite different in some cases to my field kit. In and of itself these would not always be an issue as some calibration can be expected at times. However, this one brand, in particular, was giving vastly different results. At times it was conflicting with itself and giving back to back different readings as well as not being internally consistent in the margin of error.
This led me to question if the kit was bad as it was maybe a year old or so. I went and purchased another one and also grabbed 3 other tests. Another brand showed the test strips were vague and off. Another kit was nearly unresponsive for small ppm. The new replacement of the first inaccurate kit was just as inconsistent as the old.
The Nutrafin was bang on. It was a negligible variance from the field kit the Ministry of Natural Resources used to the point that calibration was not even needed.
To calibrate the kits it is a matter of noting the deviation and adjusting from there. For example, control your source first. Test a ph solution on water you know is neutral, if your test says 0.5 off then you know all your other tests will also be off by that value, etc.
As far as testing goes. Take multiple samples from multiple locations over multiple weeks, months, and seasons preferably. Make note of not just relevant data sets but also geology, soil and rock composition, other flora and possible fauna.
Compiled from conversations with Kevin Grant