Modeling electrolyte transport in water-rich exoplanets

⊕50% by weight of H2O and a surface temperature of 300 KA the thermal plume creates a focused upward flow of salt ice that melts at the ocean boundary. Crystallization at the bottom of the ocean over a wide area produces a diffuse return of salt to the mantle. Depending on the initial conditions and the partition coefficients of NaCl between the ice and the ocean, the frozen mantle can act either as a sink or a source of electrolytes for the ocean. Label C illustrates a possible thermal boundary layer at the bottom of the icy mantle in contact with the warmer rocky mantle. Credit : NatureCommunications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30796-5″ width=”800″ height=”396″/>

Salt transport through the high-pressure ice mantle of a hypothetical water-rich exoplanet with 1 M50% by weight of H2O, and a surface temperature of 300 KA, a thermal plume creates a focused upward flow of melting salt ice at the ocean boundary. Crystallization at the bottom of the ocean over a wide area produces a diffuse return of salt to the mantle. Depending on the initial conditions and the partition coefficients of NaCl between the ice and the ocean, the frozen mantle can act either as a sink or a source of electrolytes for the ocean. Label C illustrates a possible thermal boundary layer at the bottom of the icy mantle in contact with the warmer rocky mantle. Credit: Nature Communication (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30796-5

Oceans on water-rich exoplanets could be enriched in electrolytes, including salts such as sodium chloride, suggests a modeling study published in Nature Communication. The research proposes that electrolytes can be transported from the rocky core of these planets and may have implications for the potential habitability of these ocean worlds.

Water-rich exoplanets and icy moons are promising environments for biological processes to take place. Planets are formed from a rocky core separated from liquid water by a shell of high pressure ice. It has been debated whether the transport of electrolytes from the rock core into the liquid ocean is impeded by the ice shell.

Jean-Alexis Hernandez and his colleagues used molecular dynamics simulations and thermodynamic modeling to explore how electrolytes might be transported between the ice sheet and the ocean on these planets. The authors found that salts, such as sodium chloride, could be incorporated into the ice shells at high pressure and transported through the ice into the ocean. They argue that this demonstrates that high-pressure ice mantles may not act as chemical barriers between rock cores and oceans of liquid water.

Writing in an accompanying commentary, Baptiste Journaux suggests that the study “offers the most compelling argument yet for resolving the habitability dilemma of the greater planetary hydrosphere.”


Experiments measure freezing point of alien oceans to help search for life


More information:
Jean-Alexis Hernandez et al, Stability of salt ice at high temperatures suggests electrolyte permeability in water-rich exoplanet icy mantles, Nature Communication (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30796-5

Baptiste Journaux, Salt ice and the dilemma of the habitability of oceanic exoplanets, Nature Communication (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30799-2

Provided by Nature Publishing Group

Quote: Modeling electrolyte transport in water-rich exoplanets (2022, June 22) retrieved July 3, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-electrolyte-water-rich-exoplanets.html

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