The ocean is salty because of the gradual concentration of dissolved chemicals eroded from the Earth's crust and washed into the sea. Solid and gaseous ejections from volcanoes, suspended particles swept to the ocean from the land by onshore winds, and materials dissolved from sediments deposited on the ocean floor have also contributed. Salinity is increased by evaporation or by freezing of sea ice and it is decreased as a result of rainfall, runoff, or the melting of ice.
The average salinity of sea water, 35 parts per thousand (ppt or o/oo), occurs at the Equator. But concentrations as high as 40 o/oo are observed in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Salinities are much less than average in coastal waters, in the polar seas, and near the mouths of large rivers.
If the salt in the sea could be removed and spread evenly over the Earth's land surface it would form a layer more than 500 feet thick, about the height of a 40-story office building. The saltiness of the ocean is more understandable when compared with the salt content of a fresh-water lake. For example, when 1 cubic foot of sea water evaporates it yields about 2.2 pounds of salt, but 1 cubic foot of fresh water from Lake Michigan contains only one one-hundredth (0.01) of a pound of salt, or about one sixth of an ounce. Thus, sea water is 220 times saltier than the fresh lake water.
Why is the ocean salty?