09-01-2008, 12:19 PM
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Due to the chemistry of seawater, only a certain amount of organic acids are able to be utilized by the buffer system prior to changes occuring in pH. Testing for carbonate hardness, more commonly referred to as alkalinity in the marine hobby, allows you to add buffers to your aquarium as necessary.
This is one of the most important weekly tests you will run in a marine aquarium. In addition to measuring alkalinity, you will need a calcium test kit. The impact of calcium on this buffering system is just as important.
You will want to measure the carbonate hardness (alkalinity) in DKH, because this is the most commonly used scale, at least on this forum. I keep my alkalinity between 12 and 14 DKH. Others keep theirs a bit lower, between 10 and 12 DKH. Anywhere in this range will likely be sufficient.
You also need to test calcium and add calcium to the aquarium as necessary. Calcium is generally kept between 400 and 450 ppm, with some suggesting up to 500 ppm.
Different aquarists have success at different levels, but the minimums of 10 DKH and 400 ppm are a nice starting spot for the new aquarist.
For the record, these same organic acids that deplete your carbon hardness are what interact biologically with the biofilter and eventually become Nitrate. This is yet another reason for everyone to utilize a strong protein skimmer, which removes these organic acids from your aquarium, reducing Nitrate buildup and reduces strain on your buffer system.