The Earth’s oceans cover about 70% of the planet. The sea is our largest habitat and, of course, it’s all salt water (which, coincidentally, ties in nicely with the Salt Bowl theme of this edition).
Salt in its natural state is a crystalline mineral made of sodium chloride, known as rock salt or halite. Sodium is the 6th most abundant element on Earth and makes up about 2.6% of the Earth’s crust – but why is the majority of water on our home planet salty?
Salt in the oceans comes from rocks on land. It’s a complicated process involving rainfall that contains some partially dissolved carbon dioxide. This acidic rainfall breaks down the rocks and creates electrically charged particles called ions.
Streams and rivers carry the ions into the ocean. Marine organisms then dissolve the ions and remove them, leaving mostly sodium and chloride as byproducts. About 3.5% of the weight of seawater comes from dissolved salts, and if the salt from the oceans were removed and spread over the globe, it would form a layer nearly 500 feet thick!
As you can imagine, the mixing of salt water and fresh water during natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes creates a threat to our ecosystem and environment. For example, the strong storm surge from a hurricane or tropical storm pushes seawater into marshland along coastal regions, causing all manner of problems.
Salt-water intrusion destroys plants because the salt ions create a drought-like condition, causing damage to foliage and roots. But plants are not the only things affected by salt-water intrusion. Coastal and marshland waterfowl such as Great Blue Herons and Egrets who feed on plants susceptible to intrusion can lose a substantial part of their feeding ground in affected areas.
Underground aquifers, like the ones that lie beneath 81% of the state of Texas, can also fall prey to salt-water intrusion. When salt-water mixes with fresh water and seeps into such aquifers, the water becomes contaminated, which causes a wide array of challenges. Fortunately, over time fresh water from rivers and streams pushes the salt-water back out to sea.
On a side note, some may wonder why rain from a hurricane or tropical system isn’t salty. Storms that develop and form hurricanes do pull moisture from the oceans, but since salt is a solid, it remains behind as only the water evaporates to form clouds.
Now, speaking of all things salty, here’s a question for all of you: where did Saline County get its name? I’ve heard conflicting accounts and I want to get to the bottom of this mystery. Send me a Facebook message at @edbucknerTHV11 to weigh in.