I'm currently writing a narrative and hoping to include a world which is home to a sea of some form of 'nasty' substance (doesn't have to be acid).

The varieties of inhabitants of this world have evolved mostly on the lands and eventually built their cities right up to the shorelines of this acidic sea. (In some cases I may even have cities that float and migrate across it).

I'm imagining some kind of scientific or industrial endeavor they perform whereby they've created ships that can withstand the chemicals (at least in short term) by lining their hulls with a type of ablative shielding.

Also desirable (although not essential) would be for the composition to not be immediately fatal. A carbon life form (or would they likely be silicate?) could fall in and maybe swim for a few minutes and leave with only some semi minor chemical burns. Yet prolonged exposure would most definitely be fatal.

I'm also wondering if the inhabitants could harness this chemical in some imaginative way such as for propulsion or agricultural/industrial means?

My question is, what kind of chemical/cocktail could I use to fit these kinds of parameters?


closed as too broad by bon, Jan, ringo, M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ, Geoff Hutchison Feb 5 '16 at 17:24

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    $\begingroup$ As any "rocky planet" is made of metal oxides, Fe oxides, Si oxides, Ca oxides that would counter any real acidic ocean, "best" you can hope for are organic acids from an abundance of carbon that has not yet met the abundance of (bound) oxygen. So if this should be a "hard fiction" you will have to make due with $\ce{H2CO3}$ and acetic acid. Or, you need some special polt to explain it. $\endgroup$ – Gyro Gearloose Feb 4 '16 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome to chemistry.stackexchange.com. Feel free to take a tour of the site. Your question may be a bit broad, but that’ll be up to the community to decide. As for the usage part: Most certainly, all acids that the chemical industry produces are useful for something (and most of the time, one just uses sulphuric acid because it is the cheapest). $\endgroup$ – Jan Feb 4 '16 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @GyroGearloose thanks, that's helpful. What if the size of the body was reduced to that of a lake? These certainly occur at least here on Earth: google.co.uk/… $\endgroup$ – Adam Naylor Feb 4 '16 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Local conditions could be very, very different. Decaying pyrite can release sulfuric acid. (I'm now only a hobbyist on chemistry, so I can't be really sure.) Search the internet for ecological disasters with mining Fe, and be sure to verify (there's a lot of myths out there lacking any science). $\endgroup$ – Gyro Gearloose Feb 4 '16 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ Basic is easy to get: water+ammonia. This has been explored before. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Feb 5 '16 at 17:52

Coca Cola or a mixture of Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola would probably be a good choice.

It's not immediately fatal for carbon life forms that fall into it. Only prolonged exposure will cause digestion and damage to bones and teeth.

Due to the phosphoric acid ships with iron hulls would withstand corrosion due to passivation through the formation of iron phosphate (also a molluscicide to protect from shipworms).

In agriculture phosphate is also a potent fertilizer.

For propulsion purposes, Cola together with Mentos is a well-known hybrid rocket propellant.

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer. I'm now wondering how I could account for the occurrence of phosphate and how to keep the acid concentration up through some kind of phosphorous cycle? (phosphorous rocks/rain?) $\endgroup$ – Adam Naylor Feb 4 '16 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ I think that it is really hard to consistently model a habitable world with acidic oceans since acids would tend to be neutralized by many minerals in such a world. Phosphoric acid could be formed by hypothetic vulcanic exhalations of P4O10 (fumaroles, hot springs, or, under the sea, black smokers). However, afaik this does not occur on earth. Here you rather have CO2 or SO2. The latter forms sulphuric acid which is more aggressive than H3PO4. $\endgroup$ – aventurin Feb 7 '16 at 21:50

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