The concentrations of five major and 28 trace elements in 35 marine algae collected along the coast of China were determined by instrumental neutron activation analysis. The concentrations of halogens, rare earth elements and many transition metal elements in marine algae are remarkably higher than those in terrestrial plants. The concentration factors for 31 elements in all collected algae were calculated, those for tri- and tetra-valent elements were higher than those of the mono- and di-valent elements in marine algae. The biogeochemical characteristics of inorganic elements in marine algae were investigated. In addition, the seasonal variation of inorganic elements in Sargassum kjellmanianum was also studied. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.