Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
17 Oct 2011
 | 17 Oct 2011

About uncertainties in practical salinity calculations

M. Le Menn

Abstract. In the current state of the art, salinity is a quantity computed from conductivity ratio measurements, with temperature and pressure known at the time of the measurement, and using the Practical Salinity Scale algorithm of 1978 (PSS-78). This calculation gives practical salinity values S. The uncertainty expected in PSS-78 values is ±0.002, but no details have ever been given on the method used to work out this uncertainty, and the error sources to include in this calculation. Following a guide published by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM), using two independent methods, this paper assesses the uncertainties of salinity values obtained from a laboratory salinometer and Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) measurements after laboratory calibration of a conductivity cell. The results show that the part due to the PSS-78 relations fits is sometimes as significant as the instrument's. This is particularly the case with CTD measurements where correlations between variables contribute mainly to decreasing the uncertainty of S, even when expanded uncertainties of conductivity cell calibrations are for the most part in the order of 0.002 mS cm−1. The relations given here, and obtained with the normalized GUM method, allow a real analysis of the uncertainties' sources and they can be used in a more general way, with instruments having different specifications.