Originally Posted by samamorgan
Not all spectrums are created equal!
Analyzing photosynthetically active radiation (PUR)
One of the reasons LEDs can be so much more efficient than T5, compact flourescent, and even metal halide is spectrum output. The chlorophyll pigment is green in color, which means that it reflects the green spectrum of light to our eyes so we see it as green. This means that it absorbs all other spectrums of visible light. Check out this graph:
As you can see, plants absorb visible light very well between ~400-500nm and ~650-700nm. The absorbtion rate drops off significantly in the green and yellow spectrums.
LEDs put out very specific spectrums of light, which are defined by the manufacturer. LED manufacturers can fine tune emmiters to put out exactly the spectrum specified by the client. Since PAR meters measure light between 400-700nm, an LED array putting out less par than a broad spectrum flourescent fixture may actually be putting out more photosynthetically usable radiation (PUR).
Why is this concept important?
Say two LED emmiters read around 100 PAR on a meter. The first LED spikes highest in the 550nm range. The second LED spikes highest in the 450nm range. So while both emmiters have the same PAR value, emmiter two would actually grow plants very well because it is in a range that can be absorbed by the plant, while emmiter one would probably keep plants limping along, if they could even survive.
Just because plants are green doesn't mean they reflect all of the green parts of the light spectrum. It means they reflect more green than red, primarily, and blue secondarily. Another reason plants look green is that our eyes are very sensitive to green, but not at all sensitive to red. But, plants absorb all parts of the spectrum to some extent. Most LEDs don't have the very high spikes in output that we see with fluorescent lights. The ones I have seen have a peak, for sure, but it is a broad one, and there is still a lot of light emitted that isn't in that peak.
Until we know how much PAR we are getting with various lights in various configurations it makes little sense to try to complicate matters by also worrying about PUR. PUR was of much more importance when it was hard to get enough light to grow plants, and anything that would increase the amount of usable light we were getting from a light fixture was something good to pursue. Now, the biggest lighting problem we have is having way more light (PAR) than we can easily use on our tanks. So PUR becomes much less relevant.
I find the collecting of PAR data for various manufactured LED light fixtures very useful, and I hope we can expand it eventually to include all such lights that are available. Let's not complicate it.