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Salinity is an ambiguous term.

As a basic definition, salinity is the total concentration of all

dissolved salts in water . These electrolytes form ionic particles as they dissolve, each with a

positive and negative charge. As such, salinity is a strong contributor to conductivity. While
salinity can be measured by a complete chemical analysis, this method is difficult and time
consuming . Seawater cannot simply be evaporated to a dry salt mass measurement as

chlorides are lost during the process . 26

The most common ions in sea water.

More often, salinity is not measured directly, but is instead derived from the conductivity
measurement . This is known as practical salinity. These derivations compare the specific

conductance of the sample to a salinity standard such as seawater . Salinity measurements


based on conductivity values are unitless, but are often followed by the notation of practical
salinity units (psu) .

There are many different dissolved salts that contribute to the salinity of water. The major ions in
seawater (with a practical salinity of 35) are: chloride, sodium, magnesium, sulfate, calcium,
potassium, bicarbonate and bromine . Many of these ions are also present in freshwater

sources, but in much smaller amounts . The ionic compositions of inland water sources are

dependent on the surrounding environment. Most lakes and rivers have alkali and alkaline earth
metal salts, with calcium, magnesium, sodium, carbonates and chlorides making up a high
percentage of the ionic composition . Freshwater usually has a higher bicarbonate ratio while

seawater has greater sodium and chloride concentrations . 39

Absolute Salinity

The Gibbs function is the basis of calculating absolute salinity. It considers the entire system as a
whole instead of relying solely on conductivity.
While the Practical Salinity Scale is acceptable in most situations, a new method of salinity
measurement was adopted in 2010. This method, called TEOS-10, determines absolute salinity
as opposed to the practical salinity derived from conductivity. Absolute salinity provides an
accurate and consistent representation of the thermodynamic state of the system . Absolute

salinity is both more accurate and more precise than practical salinity and can be used to
estimate salinity not only across the ocean, but at greater depths and temperature ranges . 24

TEOS-10 is derived from a Gibbs function, which requires more complex calculations, but offers
more useful information . 24
Salinity Units

The units used to measure salinity fluctuate based on application and reporting procedure. Parts
per thousand or grams/kilogram (1 ppt = 1 g/kg) used to be the standard . In some freshwater

sources, this is reported in mg/L . Now salinity values are reported based on the unitless
4, 37

Practical Salinity Scale (sometimes denoted in practical salinity units as psu) . As of 2010, an

Absolute Salinity calculation was developed, but is not used for database archives . Absolute

salinity is reported in g/kg and is denoted by the symbol S . TEOS-10 offers pre-programmed

equations to calculate absolute salinity.

The different methods and units of salinity measurements all rely on a reference point of 35 for
The units psu, ppt and S g/kg are nearly equivalent (and often interchanged) . All three

methods are based on an approximate salinity value of 35 in seawater . However, there are

some distinctions that must be made.

Practical salinity units are dimensionless and are based on conductivity studies of potassium
chloride solutions and seawater . These studies were done with 32.4356 g/kg KCL solution and

Copenhagen water which has a chlorinity of 19.374 ppt . This north Atlantic sea water was

given a set practical salinity of 35 psu . The practical salinity scale is considered accurate for

values between 2 and 42 psu . These are the most common units used, and practical salinity

remains the most common salinity value stored for data archives . 24

The historical definition of salinity was based on chloride concentration (which could be
determined by titration) . This calculation used the following equation:

Determining total salinity based on chloride concentrations in only accurate in water sources with
a known chloride-salinity ratio, such as seawater.
This method is only acceptable for seawater, as it is limited in estuaries, brackish and
freshwater sources . While salinity and chlorinity are proportional in seawater, equations based

on this are not accurate in freshwater or when chlorinity ratios change .


Absolute salinity in g/kg is best for studies that require very precise data. It is consistent with
other SI units as a true mass fraction, and it ensures that all thermodynamic relationships
(density, sound, speed and heat capacity) remain consistent . These units also help determine

specific ions contributions to salinity values . Absolute salinity also offers a greater range and

more accurate values than other salinity methods when ionic composition is known
While freshwater sources have a low conductivity and seawater has a high conductivity, there is
no set standard for the conductivity of water. Instead, some organizations and regions have set
limits on total dissolved solids for bodies of water . This is because conductivity and salinity

can differ not only between oceans and freshwater, but even between neighboring streams. If
the surrounding geology is different enough, or if one source has a separate inflow, conductivity
values of neighboring water bodies will not be the same.
Despite the lack of standards and the effects of the surrounding environment on conductivity,
there are approximate values that can be expected based on source : 13,14

Freshwater has a wide conductivity range due to geology effects. Freshwater that runs through
granite bedrock will have a very low conductivity value . Clay and limestone soils can

contribute to higher conductivity values in freshwater . Some saline lakes exist due to a

restricted outflow . The conductivity of these lakes is dependent on the specific ionic

composition present . 4

The conductivity of estuaries tends to be the most variable as they are constantly influenced by
freshwater and saltwater flows. The conductivity of seawater is dependent on the salinity and
temperature of the water . Measurements will vary between the Equator and the poles as well

as with depth due to conductivitys dependence on temperature . 38

As with conductivity, the expected salinity of a body of water can only be estimated. Ocean
salinity values can vary between 30 and 37 PSU . Despite the differences in salinity, the ionic

composition of seawater remains remarkably constant across the globe . The surface salinity of

the ocean is dependent on rainfall. In areas around the equator and coast where rainfall is high,
surface salinity values are lower than average . These different salinity values contribute to

ocean circulation and global climate cycles .


The following chart offers approximate salinity values in ppt (parts per thousand) : 27
Once a history of conductivity measurements has been conducted, it is easy to see an
established range for a particular body of water . This range can be used as a baseline to

evaluate measurements as expected (and unexpected) values

Rose, Kevin, Daniel Kelly, Christine Kemker, Katie Fitch, Alex Card. 2016. Conductivity, Salinity, and Total
Dissolved Solids. Dalam: Fundamentals of Environmental Measurements. Ohio: Fondriest Environmental.
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quality/conductivity-salinity-tds/ pada 17 September 2017.