Why is the ocean salty?

North Yellow Banks Beach at Olympic National Park. (Courtesy of National Park Service)

North Yellow Banks Beach at Olympic National Park. (Courtesy of National Park Service)

If you’ve ever been in the ocean, you’ve tasted that salt. But where does it come from? And why aren’t lakes and rivers salty too? A sea shanty is probably the best way to explain, right? Plus: we learn about the weird and wonderful world of deep ocean hot springs.

A look at hydrothermal vents

A black smoker on the ocean floor. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

A hydrothermal vent, or black smoker, on the ocean floor. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

Chemosynthetic bacteria living inside the tubeworms derive energy from chemicals emitted in the hot water of hydrothermal vents. This was the first live tubeworm seen at a hydrothermal vent site in Atlantic waters. The observation occurred during an expedition aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer conducted in August 2011. (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, MCR Expedition 2011, NOAA-OER)

This was the first live tubeworm seen at a hydrothermal vent site in Atlantic waters. TCredit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, MCR Expedition 2011, NOAA-OER)

At least two species of shrimp are found at the Von Damm hydrothermal vent site. One relies on chemosynthesis for food, and the other may be a predator. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, MCR Expedition 2011.

At least two species of shrimp are found at the Von Damm hydrothermal vent site. (Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, MCR Expedition 2011)

Riftia tubeworms colonize diffuse vent habitats between broken pieces of lava. Small mussels, less than two inches, were growing in cracks adjacent to vent openings (lower right). Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Riftia tubeworms colonize diffuse vent habitats between broken pieces of lava. Small mussels, less than two inches, were growing in cracks adjacent to vent openings (lower right). (Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.)

Footage of the crew of E/V Nautilus discovering a hydrothermal vent near the Galapagos Islands: