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My characters are on a planet with no life that somehow has a weakly breathable atmosphere. They're on a beach and they note the smell. This is salt water so maybe the smell is different from, say, a fresh water waterfall. Am I right? Are any more details about the smell predictable?

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    $\begingroup$ Water, either fresh or salted, has no smell... When you are near a waterfall you don't smell the water, you smell the complex aroma produced by the diverse stuff wetted by fine water mist -- dirt, rocks, vegetation and so on. (This aroma is related to scent of rain, the petrichor.) Near the sea shore what you smell is the organisms who live in the sea and those who are decaying on the shore. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 17 '21 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Sorry, incorrect. I can smell a beaker full of pure distilled water from across the lab. Water vapor has a scent of its own. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    May 17 '21 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan: You may be smelling the beaker, but not the water. All scientific sources agree that water is odorless. (Which is to be expected: the sense of smell works by sensing the fine particles dissolved in water. Adding more water to the watery film which covers the nasal mucous epithelium cannot have any effect.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 17 '21 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a scientist and I find water completely odorless. Then again, I'm anosmic so all things are odorless, but at least I concur with your claim of "all scientific sources"! $\endgroup$ May 17 '21 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ dry air smells completely different from humidity-saturated air. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    May 17 '21 at 21:55
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The color, smell and taste of water are based on the impurities the water contains. While the taste is quickly affected, water is clear until it is oversaturated. Pure water and salt water are odourless. Usually, the life form found in the region affect the smell, however even without life water can have a distinct smell, depending on the minerals it contains.

Your beach could for example smell like clay. Maybe you are already familiar with the smell of clay water from art class in school. There are many other minerals you could choose from especially on an alien planet, you could pick something made by life in the past.

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