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Thread: The Skimmer

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2003

    The Skimmer

    I post this in response to those who want more detailed information about the various parts of a well equipped reef aquarium. I will post on other topics related to setup in the future

    THE SKIMMER part 1
    “The skimmer” is the part of your system that uses air or air and ozone to mechanically remove organic matter from your aquariums water. Using a skimmer is a good practice because it will remove bio matter from your aquariums water BEFORE it is broken down by the biological activities in your aquarium. This means that a smaller population of bacteria can manage a larger bio load while not compromising water quality.
    So how dose a skimmer work?
    Well … As complicated they look, they work on a rather simple principle. That principle is that dirty gas bubbles are stable and FLOAT on water. It’s not really that simple but for all intensive purposes that’s what goes on in a skimmer.
    Here’s a closer look. When any gas is introduced (submersed) into water, bubbles are created ONLY because of the waters resistance to absorb that gas. You can only see the bubbles as “bubbles” because of the interface between the submersed gas and the water. That interface area is where everything happens. In the case of skimmers the gas that creates the bubbles is air and a percentage of that air is Oxygen. When the formed bubbles move through water, bio matter, if present in the water, is attracted to the Oxygen in the air that formed the bubbles. This occurs for reasons that I will not get into here and knowing those details is not necessary.
    Anyway, that bio matter becomes part of the interface between the Oxygen in the air and the water. A bond is created between them. When the air bubbles reach the surface of the water they burst and the air escapes from the water but the bio matter and the Oxygen that it is bonded to it is left behind. However If enough air bubbles are present the bio matter will be picked up by those other bubbles. If this process is repeated hundreds if not thousands of times a complete “shell” of bio matter bonded to Oxygen is eventually formed at that interface between the bubble and the water. Once this bio matter / Oxygen shell is formed, fully envelopes the air and is thick enough, the air itself becomes trapped inside. At this point the bubbles no longer burst at the waters surface and the dirty air bubbles FLOAT. Think of that bio matter / Oxygen shell as working much like a balloon dose. It becomes a container that holds air.
    In a skimmer we force this process to happen in a very confined space. We also force it to happen thousands and thousands of times. The result is that the air trapping bio matter bonded / Oxygen shells are created faster and more bubbles float at the skimmers water surface. We direct these floating bubbles into a collection cup away from the rest of the water in the system. Because those air trapping shells are formed by bio matter we are in effect exporting this bio matter out of the system. That’s a real simple description of the concept and I hope it was understandable.
    Now that you have an idea of how a skimmer works you can see why contact time between the bubbles and the water is so important. The longer the bubbles are in contact with the water the faster the bubbles create their air trapping shells and the faster you can export that bio matter. This is why TALL skimmers are so effective. The bubbles will be in contact with the water for a longer period of time because of the distance they must travel to make it to the surface of the water in the skimmer.
    In shorter skimmers the water is often introduced at the top and moved downward through the rising bubbles. This also results in longer contact times. On newer designs the water inside the skimmer is re-circulated with the pump also introduces the air. The result is even longer contact times and more air.
    The size and number of bubbles in the skimmer is also an important factor. Bubble size and the number of bubbles in the skimmer will determine the size of the interface surface area between the air and the water. When you increase the interface surface area you increase the surface area of the shells. The more bubbles you can create in the skimmer, the more dirty shells you create, the faster the bio matter is removed.
    Yet another factor is the flow rate through the skimmer. This is the amount of water that you introduce to the skimmer to be mixed with those bubbles.
    SO when you are setting up a skimmer you must take all these input factors into consideration and find the right balance between them to have the skimmer work well. How much air will you add? What bubble density and bubble size will be used? How much water will pass through the skimmer to be exposed to those bubbles?
    Sometime in the near future I will post about the different types of skimmers in use and how they make the above reaction happen.

  2. #2
    Senior Member pwall's Avatar
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    Nov 2004
    Once again...excellent!
    Ottawa (Orleans), Ontario
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