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A World without Salt

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Saigonnus, Jul 30, 2020.

  1. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    Okay, maybe not exactly WITHOUT salt. If I wanted to design a world much like the Earth (i.e. a rocky planet with a molten core and strong magnetic field); but with a water to land ratio more like 30/70 (basically opposite that of Earth) but instead of having salty oceans, it were to have several large fresh water seas. How would that affect the climate? What other side-effects could you think of about this lack of salt in the water features?
     
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  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    For me personally, this would probably break suspension of disbelief. Even the oceans thought to exist on moons in our solar system have water that is salty. Salt, of one sort or another, is rather common. I could perhaps move past my lack of belief if some plausible explanation were presented or at least hinted. E.g., a billions-years-old race once visited the planet and harvested all the salt. Or an ancient technological or magical civilization on the planet harvested it—or got rid of it for extreme religious reasons, heh. Something, some kind of overt removal, seems necessary. If your story takes place only within a small area of the planet, I could see having extremely large lakes or seas of freshwater without much explanation; perhaps the salty seas are unknown or known to exist somewhere on the planet but nowhere the characters or their acquaintances have been.
     
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  3. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I have a number of thoughts on this all at once...

    One, I think this very unlikely, but....the water that ought to be the oceans would not be gone, they would most likely just be under the ground, and any salt they contained would be spread all over the surface. I would image a lot of sludge.

    Without the oceans, I would think dust storms would become common, and rain would be almost non-existent. There would probably be some type of temperature extremes, as there would be little cloud cover to reflect light, and little water vapor to trap heat. So sunlight side would get hot, and dark side would get cold. If this planet ever had an ice age, I am not sure it would ever recover, or if its surface water ever sank below the surface, that it would ever return.

    There would have to be some reasons the lakes remained on the surface, or I would think they would eventually end up emptied by use.

    Also, for many reasons, I would think there would be far less variety of life on the planet. Since water is needed for plants, the process of oxygenating the air would seem sketchy as well.

    Come to think of it, it kind of sounds like the Mad Max world.
     
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  4. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I am trying to think as if the planet developed having only 30% of it's surface area covered by water and still able to support life. Yes, likely much of the planet's water would be underground, but sludge? I wouldn't think that possible unless it happened recently or perhaps just in given areas where the aquifers are closer to the surface, allowing the salty subsurface water to leach back up. Salt Bogs might be an idea to toy around with.

    I would think, if you have surface water at all (even 30%) then you'd have some evaporation. With evaporation; you have clouds, and rain. Normal weather like Earth? Probably not. A thought just occured to me, perhaps powerful geysers of water are common, each creating its own little pond. It could potentially make up for that lack of water vapor from evaporation and the planet could still have semi-normal weather. With cloud cover, the planet could have slightly higher temperatures than Earth, but not something prohibitive to life. Perhaps I just need to tweak the hydro cycle a bit more.

    These things require more thought. One thing that springs to mind would be the possibility that plants could have evolved to have exceptionally deep roots to tap into that subsurface water and perhaps very simple plant life (lichen/moss etc) that could serve as a catalyst to the oxygenation process. As I said, these difficulties need to be addressed, but I still believe the concept is scientifically possible.
     
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  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Not an expert in any way, but I'm not sure life as we know it could develop without salt. It's essential for the function of muscles and nerves and helps regulate fluids in the body. People in warm climates sometimes have to ingest salt pills or risk dying from the lack of salt because they sweat it all out. Even fresh water on earth isn't completely devoid of salt. The concentration is just really low.
     
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  6. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I was considering that as well, given that I actually live in a very warm and humid environment. Given that my heritage is that of cold-climate dwelling peoples, too long in the sun and I have to drink a special drink with salt (like gatorade on crack) added to replenish the sodium in my blood. As I kind of stated above, there is salt, and the question is more of hypothetical if a world could flourish without it's surface water being salty.
     
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  7. I suppose it's somewhat of a chicken or egg question then? If salt wasn't abundant on earth, life would never have formed as it did here. What it would look like otherwise, over millions of years, I don't know. Even our freshwater has some salt in it because life can't exist here without it. But another planet? Sodium is essential for nerve and muscle function and, of course, it's involved in the regulation of fluids in the body. All animals, as we know them, require some salt to survive. Even freshwater ones. I'm not sure our freshwater inhabitants would have developed without the abundance of salt the oceans and earth provide, settling into becoming those freshwater species over the eons.

    So, perhaps a world where the salt supply has been depleted somehow over time and, if it applies, the advanced inhabitants have a lab manufactured way of creating it (like gator aide crack!).

    Now, that said, I'm not sure I'd give it a second thought in a book UNLESS it was a point to be raised in your story world, in which case, would that even be necessary? I mean, in a world where salt doesn't exist as it does here, the inhabitants wouldn't know or think twice about it's absence unless its technologically advanced or there had been an issue. I think of the many rare earth elements that aren't vital to life. I, and probably most people, don't think about them at all. What would the difference be to your story to not have salt? Who needs to know it? Why would it even come up? Plenty of authors write books with worlds that aren't earth and rarely does the geological and elemental makeup of the world play into the story. It's just "not earth" and that's enough. As a reader, if it's not vital to the story itself, I won't notice it or care. I guess that's the question. How vital is the lack of salt to your actual story/stories?

    The basic world you described, as far as land mass and water, wouldn't raise my eyebrows at all and the last thing I'd be asking is how much salt is in that water? While we are centuries away from a time when people didn't know what the earth looked like or even that it was round, there was a time when a great number of people lived their entire lives never seeing an ocean. Is it necessary to your story then, to even mention that entire elemental makeup? SO many good questions raised by this though. Good luck! :)
     
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  8. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    By salto you mean NaCl right like table salt.

    First off if it's only 30% water I imagine it would be ungodly hot. Water has a temperature stabilizing affect. Meaning the the larger the body of water the less the temp changes in the area, that's one reason why lakes can support plant life where maybe a mile or two away they cannot. That means the centers of continents are going to all be like the Gobi desert, very hot in the summer ( most likely extremely hot and dry,) and extremely cold and dry in the winter. I would even bet the only hospitable places are going to be near the coasts. Also even if there is evaporation as the low pressure center moves inland it losses a lot of the water , mountains are a huge barrier to moisture reaching a landmasses center.

    As to salt, one thing any substance in solution does is vapor pressure lowering and freezing point lowering. Basically it lowers the temp to vaporize and freeze the liquid, mostly this is such a small amount that it matters only in chem. However at a global scale it would probably have and impact how much I don't know.

    So from what I know the interiors would be extremely hot and dry or cold and dry depending on the season, elevation, and lat. Most likely uninhabitable. The coasts are where it would be habitable. Even then I'm going to bet near the equator it would also be uninhabitable simply because of how hot it would be. FYI, I learned all this from making my own map so could be very wrong
     
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  9. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

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    How different your planet is from earth is also dependent on the location of your water. Large bodies of water allow for the distribution of heat from the equator to the poles. On earth Britain is not as cold as it could be in winter because an ocean current brings warm water from the Caribbean. Water vapor is the best molecule at retaining heat in the atmosphere (humidity). If your planet has far less water then the nights would be much cooler than the days, like in a desert. Less water = less clouds --> more dust in the air leading to more dry lightning.
    In chemistry any molecule made from a metal and non-metal is a salt. Ex. iron oxide (rust) is a salt. If you mean NaCl (table salt) then I don't see why you need it for a story. The oceans on earth are currently 3% salt. This amount has increased over billions of years. If a character goes tto the shore of a sea and has a drink I don't see a problem. Only mention the lack of salt if it's crucial to the story.
     
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  10. Eleanor Konik

    Eleanor Konik Dreamer

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    It would really, really mess with your weather currents. One of the reasons that the oceans flow the way they do is because saltwater is heavier and denser and "sinks" and salt doesn't freeze as well. I found a great article that does a much better job than I can of explaining it:

    Convection currents help warm water from the equator get farther north, while colder water from the north is able to cool hotter areas down south. At the Equator, warmer water can carry more salt, so this denser water sinks lower, while cooler water flows over top of it. And in the far north, the water gets cold enough to freeze and form sea ice. Salt gets left behind as the water freezes, and naturally, this makes colder water up north denser, allowing it to sink to the bottom to make room for the incoming warmer water that’s worked its way up from the South.

    Without salt, the whole process breaks down. Earth’s extremities would freeze, while weather would intensify around the equator. For one thing, hurricanes would be a lot more frequent, and a lot more deadly!​
     
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    It's funny. I found a video on YouTube, and as I was listening to it, I realized the guy was basically reading from the quoted article Eleanor KonikEleanor Konik just posted!

    Ah...that video is actually from the article. Interesting.

     
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  12. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    It is impossible. One of reasons oceans are salty is that rain and rivers wash out salt from rocks and bring it down to sea. Increasing land:water ratio would make oceans more salty, not less. In fact, if you want to have any chance of freshwater seas at all, you need to have basically a water world.
     
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  13. Zilal

    Zilal New Member

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    I couldn't resist replying to this thread, even though it's a few months old.

    Honestly, I think the idea has great potential and could be developed pretty deeply. I agree that where you have rocks you have salt, and also that it may be unlikely that life would have evolved without salt water. However, having an ocean that lacks salt doesn't mean it always lacked salt. We have plants that fix nitrogen in the soil, and such things as oysters, which remove sediment and pollutants from water as they feed, depositing them on the sea floor. So it's not too hard to imagine there could have evolved along the way some kind of creature, plant or microbe capable of "fixing" salt--say, removing it from solution and encasing it in a silicate nodule which then falls to the ocean floor, as part of its biologic processes. As the oceans became less salty, the other organisms in it slowly evolved to adapt.

    It's the changes to the world due to this lack of salt that would be truly interesting and might make for a good read. The potential climate changes mentioned above are very intriguing, as well as the potential economic/health implications in a world where a necessary substance is so rare. You could even set up your world's tectonics such that ancient deposits of salt (silicate-noduled or not) on land are very rare and become the site of vicious battles. Giant ice caps, massive hurricanes, vicious battles--what's not to love?

    The trouble with all this is that if it's a fantasy book, likely none of your characters are going to understand that the ocean is salt-free due to these microbes or whatever that evolved, and so your readers aren't going to know either. Which leaves you vulnerable to people thinking you don't know what the heck you're writing about. You could get around this by making it more of a "science fantasy" story in which this planet was colonized by earthlings who over time regressed to whatever level of technology you prefer, but retained the knowledge of why the oceans aren't salty. Or you can explain the whole deal in some kind of flashback to the past.
     
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  14. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    Thank you very much for taking the time to comment on my post.

    I really think this idea has merit. I was considering underwater plant life that feed on the salt for use in their natural process, maybe they release bubbles of oxygen and nitrogen as a side-effect. Something similar could happen there. Also, if the flora and fauna can adapt to require less salt, why not the humanoids? I was just thinking that if it were a water world, they could be similar to a human/merman hybrid. I am personally not a fan of "merfolk" and their obvious limitations, but maybe they still breathe in the open air, walk, talk and whatnot, but also have gills, webbed fingers and toes and maybe even hydrodynamic fins on the backs of their arms and legs.

    I definitely agree. It could be interesting to see how it all fits together. I could imagine a place like Yellowstone that releases geysers of salt water being tightly controlled by the "Empire" for access to the salt. Maybe civilization is water-bourne in some cases, living on the waves themselves so they can harvest the globules of salt. Might be interesting. Salt would definitely be a trade good for those civilizations.

    In regards to practical construction. They'd obviously have to use materials and building geometry that is resistant to the frequent tempests, hurricanes and squalls that would likely form very quickly. Rounded structures with built-in furnishings, ones with few windows on the lower levels maybe a skylight that also serves as an entrance/escape in case of the inevitable flooding. Cities with wide canals to divert excess water, public shelters against the weather.

    Also, maybe their whole religious society is based on a god/goddess of the weather, and pray to them whenever someone is killed by the weather.

    I don't agree with this passage, though I do understand your thought process. I don't see why a character in a fantasy world couldn't understand how his/her world works. Even before the invention of telescopes and modern astronomy, Humans on Earth understood the celestial bodies that made up our little corner of the galaxy, even if they didn't know specifically about orbits and asteroids and tidally locked moons. Before the invention on modern chemistry, we understood that certain plants used in a certain way could have positive (or negative) effects even if we couldn't refine them or genetically modify them to be of greater use. Before the concept of Modern Biological Warfare, some Europeans lobbed diseased sheep over the walls of a besieged castle in hopes that those under siege would get sick and surrender, or simply die. They understood well enough how illness worked, even without the modern studies of Epidemiology.

    In short, I would think that someone born on the planet I am describing would understand how the world works well enough, even if only in simple terms. Maybe in coastal areas with shallow water, they scrape the stuff off the rocks and eat it... and find it really salty. Maybe they even cultivate the stuff to deliberately harvest the silica beads. Maybe such things are so prevalent in the civs of the world that it is common knowledge. Entire industries could be based on getting that salt.
     
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  15. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    SaigonnusSaigonnus Keep in mind that world completely devoid of salt would not be able to develop indigenous life, or else that life would be completely alien compared to what we have on Earth. Our own bodily processes require minerals, of which salt is most common. For example, distilled water (which is what you would get without minerals) cannot conduct electricity - and this ability is absolutely crucial for functioning of multicellular organisms, as that is how brain sends signals to the rest of the body: all muscles, including heart, diaphragm and skeletal muscles, respond to electric signals from the brain. No salt = no signals = we die. So no salt means no multicellular life.
     
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  16. Son of the Roman

    Son of the Roman Scribe

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    A world entirely devoid of salt wouldn’t last long. I don’t know about other creatures, but humans require salt to live. Hernando De Soto talked about the extensive salt trade in North America, and how a salt deficiency led to painful deaths, where people looked and smelled like corpses long before they died.
     
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  17. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Unless they are a silicon based life form. I don't think they would need salt.
     
  18. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    That's definitely a grim mental picture... :(
     
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