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Background: The oceans and waters in my setting have an incredibly strong pH between 11 to 14, this calcifies anything that enters them (not instantly but pretty quickly).

I know in nature that some creatures live purely off vegetable matter because it has a great amount of water inside it; would that have to be done here? The problem is while my creatures could most likely do that the larger creatures that live on the world with them would probably find that insufficient.

Question: What/how would they hydrate? Or would they drink nothing if that's possible?

(Please tell me if the question seems too broad or could be improved. Thank you in advance.)

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    $\begingroup$ Hi PinkAxolotl85. I see you have accepted an answer already, less than three hours after posting your question. It is usually suggested to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer, to ensure that people from different parts of the world have a chance to see your question and propose answers, as well as allow the community time to vote (which is meant to indicate how well answers actually answer the question). Questions with accepted answers may see less activity. See the linked question on Worldbuilding Meta for further discussion on this. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 14 '17 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ If the ph is 11, then I would not call it "water." The ph of water is 7. Any deviation from that number, and you are talking about a mixture of water and something else. Of course, if the ph is close to 7, then the mixture may be mostly water. But, it's no longer "mostly water" when you turn it up to 11. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Oct 15 '17 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that machines to raise water pH to 9.5 are sold to health nuts. $\endgroup$ – Hot Licks Oct 15 '17 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ Mono Lake has a pH of 10 and a healthy ecosystem $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Oct 16 '17 at 9:57
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I would suggest that most of the life on the planet undertakes atmospheric Nitrogen fixation in a manner similar to that used by terrestrial Rhizobium bacteria. The chemical pathway for this fixation is strongly acidic and will leave free protons that the body can use to prevent the build up of alkaline compounds by neutralising them and maintaining them in solution instead of them forming insoluble precipitates. Everything needs Nitrogen as a chemical building block in amino-acids and proteins, on Earth most lifeforms get this in the form of nitrates sourced either from the soil or in the case of animals ultimately from plant foods but if you posit that life on your world relies on Nitrogen fixing organelles not entirely dissimilar to Mitochondria then all plants and animals would get their Nitrogen directly. Consumers then eat only for Carbon and trace elements and most creatures could have a similar pH to what we see on Earth and pass the majority of the Calcium compound load they have to deal with in their water. In fact such lifeforms would rely on highly alkaline water to maintain their internal pH balance the same way clover needs lime soils to grow well on acidic soils.

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I would imagine that, if the waters of this planet have always been basic in nature, that life must have simply arisen within that environment. If that is the case, then subsequent organisms would simply have evolved to cope with extremely basic water, perhaps even making some kind of use of whatever basic chemicals are in the water.

Native animals would simply drink extremely bitter water!

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    $\begingroup$ They might for example mix it with strong acid secretions in their mouth or, more likely, have evolved a mineralized drinking organ of very stable material. Then they'd need some way of getting rid of the resulting salts with comparatively low water loss. Maybe excreting them through the skin as dry flakes. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Oct 14 '17 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't basic water be bitter, not sour? (: $\endgroup$ – SilverWolf - Reinstate Monica Oct 15 '17 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @seaturtle, alkalinity doesn't produce bitterness... sciencing.com/… $\endgroup$ – Simon MᶜKenzie Oct 16 '17 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ What dóes it produce then!? I'm not sure, myself... $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Oct 17 '17 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas a Soapy flavour is the norm. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 17 '17 at 12:01
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Micro organisms live in our bodies at pH of 4. They have proton pumps. The pH inside their cells is close to 7 even though they live at pH 4.

A similar mechanism can exist on your world. There is precedent (sort of) here. Your organisms drink the water, Proton pumps neutralize the water (perhaps calcium carbonate precipitates out and is passed), and everything is hunky dory.

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Rain could be a source of fresh water. It is also reasonable to suppose that any impermeable rock surfaces would collect rain water and allow animals to drink. Any solid alkali would be eventually be washed off into the alkali oceans. But if alkaline gases such as ammonia were ever present in the environment then it would not be possible to have fresh water on the surface at all as ammonia would immediately dissolve in any present making it alkaline. In such cases the animals would have to adapt to drinking alkaline water or die.

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  • $\begingroup$ You’re assuming that whatever is making the water so basic isn’t something that will evaporate with the water and therefore fall in the rain as well. Think acid rain, but the other end of the spectrum. $\endgroup$ – DonielF Oct 15 '17 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yes hence my comment concerning ammonia. It wasn't clear in the original question. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 15 '17 at 17:28
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I believe you may be narrowing a bit your question. Hydration is just one way in which we obtain the main solvent for our organic chemistry to work: water. We obtain lots of water from food as well. The key point I'm trying to make is to think of water as a solvent, not a source of hydration alone, because this will dictate the macro-molecular structure of your beings.

In Chapter 3 of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" he hypothesizes what other organic chemistries that are not carbon based would be possible to sustain life (a very different type of life, of course). He basically boils life down to building blocks and solvents, using carbon and water as a start (i.e. our building blocks). The paragraph of interest is as follows:

I think the lifeforms on many worlds will consist, by and large, of the same atoms we have here, perhaps even many of the same basic molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids - but put together in unfamiliar ways. Perhaps organisms that float in dense planetary atmospheres will be very much like us in their atomic composition, except they might not have bones and therefore not need much calcium. Perhaps elsewhere some solvent other than water is used. Hydrofluoric acid might serve rather well, although there is not a great deal of fluorine in the Cosmos; hydrofluoric acid would do a great deal of damage to the kind of molecules that make us up, but other organic molecules, paraffin waxes, for example, are perfectly stable in its presence. Liquid ammonia would make an even better solvent system, because ammonia is very abundant in the Cosmos. But it is liquid only on worlds much colder than the Earth or Mars. Ammonia is ordinarily a gas on Earth, as water is on Venus. Or perhaps there are living things that do not have a solvent system at all - solid-state life, where there are electrical signals propagating rather than molecules floating about.

It seems you are constrained to an acidic solvent, so your creatures would ideally have paraffin based structures (think "Alien"). I thought Sagan's ideas were quite applicable to your case!

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