Grab samples are samples taken of a homogeneous material, usually water, in a single vessel. Filling a clean bottlewith river water is a very common example. Grab samples provide a good snap-shot view of the quality of the sampled environment at the point of sampling and at the time of sampling. Without additional monitoring, the results cannot be extrapolated to other times or to other parts of the river, lake or ground-water.
In order to enable grab samples or rivers to be treated as representative, repeat transverse and longitudinal transectsurveys taken at different times of day and times of year are required to establish that the grab-sample location is as representative as is reasonably possible. For large rivers such surveys should also have regard to the depth of the sample and how to best manage the sampling locations at times of flood and drought.
In lakes grab samples are relatively simple to take using depth samplers which can be lowered to a pre-determined depth and then closed trapping a fixed volume of water from the required depth. In all but the shallowest lakes, there are major changes in the chemical composition of lake water at different depths, especially during the summer months when many lakes stratify into a warm, well oxygenated upper layer (epilimnion) and a cool de-oxygenated lower layer (hypolimnion).
In the open seas marine environment grab samples can establish a wide range of base-line parameters such as salinity and a range of cation and anion concentrations. However, where changing conditions are an issue such as near river or sewage discharges, close to the effects of volcanism or close to areas of freshwater input from melting ice, a grab sample can only give a very partial answer when taken on its own.