Although the vast majority of seawater has a salinity of between 31 g/kg and 38 g/kg, that is 3.1–3.8%, seawater is not uniformly saline throughout the world. Where mixing occurs with fresh water runoff from river mouths, near melting glaciers or vast amounts of precipitation (e.g. Monsoon), seawater can be substantially less saline. The most saline open sea is the Red Sea, where high rates of evaporation, low precipitation and low river run-off, and confined circulation result in unusually salty water. The salinity in isolated bodies of water can be considerably greater still - about ten times higher in the case of the Dead Sea. Historically, several salinity scales were used to approximate the absolute salinity of seawater. A popular scale was the "Practical Salinity Scale" where salinity was measured in "practical salinity units (psu)". The current standard for salinity is the "Reference Salinity" scale with the salinity expressed in units of "g/kg".
Seawater contains more dissolved ions than all types of freshwater. However, the ratios of solutes differ dramatically. For instance, although seawater contains about 2.8 times more bicarbonate than river water, the percentage of bicarbonate in seawater as a ratio of all dissolved ions is far lower than in river water. Bicarbonate ions constitute 48% of river water solutes but only 0.14% for seawater. Differences like these are due to the varying residence times of seawater solutes; sodium and chloride have very long residence times, while calcium (vital for carbonate formation) tends to precipitate much more quickly. The most abundant dissolved ions in seawater are sodium, chloride, magnesium, sulfate and calcium. Its osmolarity is about 1000 mOsm/l.
Some bacteria interact with diatoms, and form a critical link in the cycling of silicon in the ocean. One anaerobic species, Thiomargarita namibiensis, plays an important part in the breakdown of hydrogen sulfide eruptions from diatomaceous sediments off the Namibian coast, and generated by high rates of phytoplankton growth in the Benguela Current upwelling zone, eventually falling to the seafloor.
Pandoravirus salinus, a species of very large virus, with a genome much larger than that of any other virus species, was discovered in 2013. Like the other very large viruses Mimivirus and Megavirus, Pandoravirus infects amoebas, but its genome, containing 1.9 to 2.5 megabases of DNA, is twice as large as that of Megavirus, and it differs greatly from the other large viruses in appearance and in genome structure.
Halley's theory was partly correct. In addition, sodium leached out of the ocean floor when the ocean formed. The presence of salt's other dominant ion, chloride, results from outgassing of chloride (as hydrochloric acid) with other gases from Earth's interior via volcanos and hydrothermal vents. The sodium and chloride ions subsequently became the most abundant constituents of sea salt.
In most open waters concentrations vary somewhat around typical values of about 3.5%, far higher than the body can tolerate and most beyond what the kidney can process. A point frequently overlooked in claims that the kidney can excrete NaCl in Baltic concentrations of 2% (in arguments to the contrary) is that the gut cannot absorb water at such concentrations, so that there is no benefit in drinking such water. Drinking seawater temporarily increases blood's NaCl concentration. This signals the kidney to excrete sodium, but seawater's sodium concentration is above the kidney's maximum concentrating ability. Eventually the blood's sodium concentration rises to toxic levels, removing water from cells and interfering with nerve conduction, ultimately producing fatal seizure and cardiac arrhythmia.
During the 18th century, Richard Russell advocated the practice's medical use in the UK, and Rene Quinton expanded the advocation of the practice other countries, notably France, in the 20th century. Currently, the practice is widely used in Nicaragua and other countries, supposedly taking advantage of the latest medical discoveries.
Minerals have been extracted from seawater since ancient times. Currently the four most concentrated metals – Na, Mg, Ca and K – are commercially extracted from seawater. During 2015 in the US 63% of magnesium production came from seawater and brines. Bromine is also produced from seawater in China and Japan. Lithium extraction from seawater was tried in the 1970s, but the tests were soon abandoned. The idea of extracting uranium from seawater has been considered at least from the 1960s, but only a few grams of uranium were extracted in Japan in the late 1990s.