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8.2: Composition of Ocean Water

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  • Composition of Ocean Water

    Water has oftentimes been referred to as the “universal solvent”, because many things can dissolve in water (Figure 14.4). Many things like salts, sugars, acids, bases, and other organic molecules can be dissolved in water. Pollution of ocean water is a major problem in some areas because many toxic substances easily mix with water.

    Figure 14.4: Ocean water is composed of many substances. The salts include sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride.

    Perhaps the most important substance dissolved in the ocean is salt. Everyone knows that ocean water tastes salty. That salt comes from mineral deposits that find their way to the ocean through the water cycle. Salts comprise about 3.5% of the mass of ocean water. Depending on specific location, the salt content or salinity can vary. Where ocean water mixes with fresh water, like at the mouth of a river, the salinity will be lower. But where there is lots of evaporation and little circulation of water, salinity can be much higher. The Dead Sea, for example, has 30% salinity—nearly nine times the average salinity of ocean water. It is called the Dead Sea because so few organisms can live in its super salty water.

    The density (mass per volume) of seawater is greater than that of fresh water because it has so many dissolved substances in it. When water is more dense, it sinks down to the bottom. Surface waters are usually lower in density and less saline. Temperature affects density too. Warm water is less dense and colder waters are more dense. These differences in density create movement of water or deep ocean currents that transport water from the surface to greater depths.