Salt May Be the Key to Life on Earth and Beyond

Key research finding

The composition of the atmosphere, especially the abundance of greenhouse gases, influences Earth’s climate. Researchers at Purdue University, led by Stephanie Olson, assistant professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, have recently found that the presence of salt in seawater can also have a major impact on the habitability of Earth and other planets. The team used a climate model to investigate the climates of worlds with different amounts of salt dissolved in seawater to predict that saltier oceans tend to result in warmer climates and, therefore, can aid in a planet’s ability to host life.

Purdue professor’s expertise

Stephanie Olson, Purdue assistant professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, studies the co-evolution of life and Earth’s environment to guide the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Journal name
Geophysical Research Letters. The paper is available online.

NASA Habitable Worlds

NASA Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR)

This work further benefitted from participation in the NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) and Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW).

Brief summary of methods
This study focused specifically on how the amount of salt dissolved in seawater affects planetary climate. The team’s findings were that saltier oceans tended to result in warmer climates. This salt may be the key ingredient for early Earth habitability in the distant past when the sun was less bright. This finding may apply to the habitability of other planets as well, potentially allowing life beyond our solar system to exist further from its host star than previously thought.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last four years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

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