Surface movement is what you are looking for to get gas exchange therefore, an air stone would help to create the movement you need. The air stones would also provide you with the additional 02 saturation that you wnat and need in a salt water tank since saturation is around 7% in a typical tank at 74 degrees F.
I ran one in my tank for a while and it caused a layer of skimate goo on the glass top, that was my clue to get a skimmer which I now have. But it does help surface agitation and therefore gas exchange
i do not suggest using an airstone in a salt water system. because of the amount of dissolved organic material the bubbles will bind this material to the bubbles, actually making them less likely to help in gas exchange. this binding process also creates a film on the tanks surface. this is how protein skimmers work. running an airstone in the system would be turning the entire display into a protein skimmer. actually creating more problems then solving.
I've found that I get the film even without an airstone, just with a powerhead near the surface. If you don't have a skimmer, you are going to get film that will interfere with gas exchange, period. Always go with a skimmer esp. if you're getting a haze or film on the water surface.
I would not run a glass top across the entire top of the tank, I have a glass panel to protect my light, that sits directly under the light. Not only do they effect your gas exchange, they hold in heat.
I have this film issue with my sons 10 gallon. No sump, no HOB. Just rock and flow with regular water changes. Does the ripple on the surface need to be strong enough to fold like a wave crashing to break through the film or is a good constant wavy ripple enough?
I don't know for sure but I always felt better when a bit of surface area was agitated enough to break through the film. in my old (first) ten gallon, I'd carefully skim that stuff off the top during water changes.
My glass top covers about 3/4 of each side of the top of the tank,it keeps my firefish from going kamakazi onto the floor. but having the airstone did eliminate the surface film and it motivated me to buy a skimmer after seeing the skimate on the glass top. Its true that it basicly turned the entire tank into a skimmer but I also believe it did add to the gas exchange at what cost I don't know.
There have been cases where people have seen improvement in ph and aeration by increasing the air quality in the home. By opening windows. Most indoor air quality is considerably worse (lower in oxygen, higher in pollutants from cleaners, air fresheneds, candles, perfumes from various products) than outside air. I personally dont worry about my glass top (when ive had them) because i open my house and get a cross breeze often, and have a skimmer and even when i havent had one, a powerhead aimed at the surface does just fine. The lfs near me tested my oxygen level, expecting it to be low because alot of peoples is, apparently, but mine was excellent. That was with glass canopy (two inches less wide than the tank) and two mj1200's near the surface in a 30 gallon.
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