Chemical Reference Materials:
Setting the Standards for Ocean Science.

A. Dickson,1 R. Bidigare,2 J. Hedges,3 K. Johnson,4 D. Leblanc,5 C. Lee,6
A. McNichol,7 F. Millero,8 J. Moffet,7 W. Moore,9 E. Peltzer4 and S. van den Berg10

1: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
2: University of Hawaii, Honolulu
3: University of Washington, Seattle
4: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California
5: National Research Council of Canada, Nova Scotia, Canada
6: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York
7: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
8: University of Miami, Miami, Florida
9: University of South Carolina, Columbia
10: University of Liverpool, United Kingdom

Ocean Studies Board, National Research Council Report. National Academies Press, Washington, DC. 130p.

This report is dedicated to the memory of our colleague
John Hedges
and his many contributions
to oceanography and organic geochemistry.


The accuracy of chemical oceanographic measurements depends on calibration against reference materials to ensure comparability over time and among laboratories. Several key parameters lack reference materials for measurements in seawater, particles in the water column, and sediments. Without reference materials it is difficult to produce the reliable data sets or long-term baseline studies that are essential to verify global change and oceanic stability. This report identifies the most urgently required chemical reference materials based on key themes for oceanographic research and provides suggestions as to how they can be developed within realistic cost constraints.

Chemical analyses of seawater are uniquely difficult given the poorly known speciation and the low concentration of many of the analytes of interest. Analyses of suspended and sedimentary marine particulate materials present their own distinct challenges, primarily due to potential interference by predominant mineral phases of different types (e.g., opal, carbonate, and aluminosilicate). Of all the analytical methods applied to marine waters and particles, at present only a small fraction can be systematically evaluated via comparison to reference materials that represent the appropriate natural concentrations and matrices.

This report is part of an evolving body of work being conducted by scientists and research sponsors interested in ensuring the quality control of oceanographic data. Chemical data collected during ongoing and future global oceanographic studies and time-series efforts must be comparable over time and among laboratories. A wide range of scientific opportunities will result from such long-term observations, such as a better understanding of the role of ocean chemistry in climate dynamics; also improved stewardship of the oceanís natural resources. The large investment of time, money, and equipment needed for such chemical oceanographic measurements demands that the data collected be of the highest quality achievable. Chemical reference materials play a critical role in the verification of the quality of these measurements.

To this end, the National Research Council Committee on Reference Materials for Ocean Science was charged with the difficult tasks of identifying the most critically needed reference materials, and recommending the most appropriate approaches for their development. The committee gave careful consideration to keeping their recommendations within the context of current and future oceanographic efforts throughout this process.

© 2002 by National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


The committee would like to acknowledge the contributions and support of its sponsor, the National Science Foundation. This report was also greatly enhanced by the input of the invited representatives from government agencies with experience in oceanic reference materials who gave talks at the planning meetings: Don Rice, National Science Foundation; Adriana Cantillo, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; John Fassett, National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Scott Willy, National Research Council of Canada. Input was also solicited through e-mail from a broad cross-section of the marine community world-wide, with help from the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography.

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Councilís Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Dr. Richard T. Barber (Duke University), Dr. Edward Boyle (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Dr. Thomas S. Bianchi (Tulane University), Dr. Katherine H. Freeman (Penn State), Dr. Dennis A. Hansell (University of Miami), Dr. Susan Libes (Coastal Carolina University), Dr. Steven E. Lohrenz (University of Southern Mississippi), Dr. Jay Pinckney (Texas A&M University), and Dr. Thomas Torgersen (University of Connecticut).

Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Dr. Kenneth H. Brink, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution. Maggie Sheer provided valuable assistance with copy-editing. The artwork and cover were designed by Van Nguyen.


Joanne Bintz, Ocean Studies Board, Study Director.
Darla Koenig, Ocean Studies Board, Senior Project Assistant.

The Executive Summary and a complete copy of this report is available for download from the National Academies Press:

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