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About Aquarium Lighting
Color Absorption & Visibility
Why can't you use a regular light bulb in your aquarium? The simple answer is that different wavelengths of light are absorbed at different rates by water. This is more prevalant in large bodies of waters like lakes and oceans, but also applies to recreational and commercial aquariums.
Wavelenghts at either end of the spectrum are absorbed at relatively lower depths than blue wavelength light. Red and near-infrared light is absorbed very quickly by water, while orange and yellow also do not penetrate very far. The longer wavelengths of the red end of the spectrum have less energy, and therefore do not penetrate the surface of water very far.
At the other end, violet and ultraviolet wavelengths are also absorbed quickly. They have smaller wavelengths, so the light is scattered by particles in the water.
This is why it is important to use special light bulbs to provide visibility for aquariums. Light can be quickly absorbed by water, and the more water and less light, the more difficult it is to see anything in the water. Regular artificial light that is quickly absorbed would result in a dark, unclear aquarium.
This is one reason why manufacturers like Ushio and UV Lighting Company have developed specialized aquarium lights. Another reason is plant growth and health.
Lighting for Plant Growth & Health
For aquariums with only fish and no coral or reef, decorative lighting for visibility is often enough. But when plants are included in an aquarium, a more specialized approach is required.
Because plants need light for photosynthesis, manufacturers have developed a range of different types of bulbs to simulate sunlight at different depths. Many of these light bulbs have very high color temperatures, above 10,000K.
Depending on the aquarium, plant life, and application, there are a wide range of aquarium lights that contribute to photosynthesis and coral fluorescence. There are also supplemental lamps that can be used to increase color rendering in particular areas of the visible spectrum.
Many of the light bulbs that are used to illuminate aquariums use either metal halide or fluorescent technology specially adapted to meet the requirements of aquariums. To a lesser degree, incandescent and LED bulbs are used in decorative lighting. Also related, marine lighting can be used to attract fish out in the open water.