Salt may be the key to life on Earth and beyond


Key search result

The composition of the atmosphere, in particular the abundance of greenhouse gases, influences the Earth’s climate. Purdue University researchers, led by Stephanie Olson, an assistant professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, recently discovered 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 study the climates of worlds with different amounts of salt dissolved in seawater to predict that saltier oceans tend to lead to warmer climates and, therefore, may help the capacity of a planet to support life.

Professor Purdue’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 Research in Astrobiology (ICAR)

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

Brief summary of methods

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

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a leading public research institution that develops practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the past four years as one of the 10 most innovative universities in the United States by US News & World Report, Purdue delivers groundbreaking research and groundbreaking discoveries. Committed to hands-on, online, real-world learning, Purdue provides transformative education for all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, allowing more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap to

Writer: Cheryl Pierce

Media contact: Brittany Steff, [email protected]

Source: Stephanie Olson, [email protected]


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