Suspended particulate matter

Sampling suspended particulate matter
Photo: FU Berlin

Fine insoluble mineral or organic particles in the water phase

Suspended particulate matter (SPM) is the third important structural and functional element in aquatic ecosystems next to the water phase and the sediment. Origin, quantity and quality of the SPM are specific for each water body and depend on the respective catchment area (geology, land use, urbanisation, state of waste water treatment technology, etc.). The chemical and biological composition of SPM is further influenced by the season, the nutrient supply, the water outflow and the weather conditions.
The quantity of SPM in the water phase plays an important role for the total load of organic and inorganic substances because a significant but varying portion of these substances is transported particle-bound. The binding of hydrophobic organic compounds, for instance, is driven by the concentrations of organic carbon.
Depending on flow velocity, particle size and density, SPM either sediment (low flow velocity) or whirl up (high flow velocity). This may cause deposition of contaminated SPM in back waters, regulated water bodies and harbours. On the other hand, floods, dredging and ships may lead to a significant remobilisation of sediments accompanied by increased contaminant levels in the water phase.
These considerations illustrate the complex function of SPM and sediment as sink, transport vehicle and source of particle-bound substances. SPM is therefore crucial in assessing the contamination of surface waters.

For the Environmental Specimen Bank SPM is sampled using special devices, the sedimentation boxes. The samples are sieved to a particle size of < 2 mm and still include small organisms (e.g. crustaceans, worms) which fall through the sieves and are not capable of escaping.

Samples are taken every month. At the end of a year, the 12 samples are combined to form one homogenate.

Richtlinie zur Probenahme und Probenbearbeitung Schwebstoffe (German)

Sampling area

Saarländischer Verdichtungsraum Important, old-industrialised conurbation in Germany.
Rhein Longest river in Germany
Elbe Fourth largest river basin in Central Europe
Verdichtungsraum Halle-Leipzig Region in the chemical triangle of Central Germany
Donau Second largest river in Europe


Metals Eighty percent of all elements on earth are metals
Nonmetals Only eighteen elements in the periodic table
Chlorohydrocarbons Group of organic compounds with at least one covalently bonded chlorine atom
DDT and metabolites Toxic and persistent organochloropesticide
Hexachlorocyclohexane Several isomeric compounds among the group of chlorinated hydrocarbons
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Group of organic compounds with at least three condensed six-membered rings
Biocides and plant protection products Chemical agents against harmful organisms and for plant protection
Supplementary parameters Additional information for the interpretation of contamination data

Sampling period

2005 - 2015

Extended information