Rocks in Motion

Kite-borne view through several cm of water showing two general classes of fresh trails.
Kite-borne view through several cm of water showing two general classes of fresh trails.

Rock Fans,
After several decades of study and observation, the sailing stones of Racetrack Playa have been observed in motion!

During winter 2013-2014, members of our group were present while the playa was flooded and frozen. A steady wind drag moved the thin ice sheets covering the playa’s south end, and these sheets pushed the rocks along, creating the characteristic furrows in the playa’s muddy surface.

We’ve posted live videos of the rock movement and time-lapse images of the winter, linked below. Links to the scientific publications reporting these observations are also below.

Contact Brian Jackson (bjackson@boisestate.edu) for questions about the website.

PRESS RELEASES

  1. SIO Press Release, courtesy of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Communications Office: Robert Monroe — rmonroe@ucsd.edu, 858-822-4487
  2. Sliding stones of Death Valley: Rocky riddle resolved” by Ralph Lorenz at New Scientist
  3. BSU Press Release (PDF, MS Word, or at BSU’s website), courtesy of Boise State University Office of Communications and Marketing: Kathleen Tuck — kathleentuck@boisestate.edu, 208-426-3275

IN THE NEWS

A google news search turns up a lot more.

  1. Mystery of Death Valley’s ‘Sailing’ Stones Solved: Rocks Filmed Moving For The First Time — weather.com
  2. Mystery of how rocks move across Death Valley lake bed solved — LA Times
  3. High-Tech Sleuthing Cracks Mystery of Death Valley’s Moving Rocks — Yahoo! News
  4. Mystery of Death Valley’s ‘Sailing’ Stones Solved: Rocks Filmed Moving For The First Time — wunderground.com
  5. Finally! Secret of Death Valley’s ‘Sailing Stones’ is Solved — Discover Magazine
  6. ‘Wandering stones’ of Death Valley explained — Nature
  7. Watch Death Valley’s Rocks Walk Before Your Eyes — National Geographic
  8. Santa Barbara Team Helps Solve Death Valley Mystery — Noozhawk
  9. First Observation of Death Valley’s Sliding Rocks — Real Clear Science
  10. Death Valley Mystery Solved — The Independent
  11. Racetrack Playa mystery in Death Valley solved – Grind TV
  12. Mystery of rocks moving across Death Valley lake bed solved — Fox 5 San Diego
  13. Mystery Of Death Valley’s ‘Sailing Stones’ Has Finally Been Solved — Huff Po
  14. At Last, Scientists Unravel Mystery of Death Valley’s Moving Rocks — NBC
  15. Mystery of Death Valley’s Moving Rocks Solved — Discovery
  16. High-Tech Sleuthing Cracks Mystery of Death Valley’s Moving Rocks — Live Science
  17. The Mystery of Death Valley’s “Sailing Stones” Is Finally Solved — Gizmodo
  18. Scientists solve mystery of Death Valley’s ‘sailing’ stones — Christian Science Monitor
  19. Death Valley’s moving rocks caught in the act — Las Vegas Review-Journal
  20. Mystery solved: The sailing stones of Death Valley — CNet

MEDIA

  1. Videos and an image, courtesy of the Slithering Stones Research Initiative
    These videos are also available on youtube: How Rocks Move and The Racetrack Playa’s Sliding Stones.
  2. Live video taken by cell phone (with credit to John Chadbourne)
  3. Images from recent field work (with credit to Jim Norris)
  4. Time-Lapse images from Nov. 2013 to Jan. 2014, 2 images/hr (with credit to Ralph Lorenz)

SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS

  1. Sliding rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: first observation of rocks in motion. R. Norris et al. (2014) PLOS ONE.
    • Contact James Norris (jim@interwoof.com) for further images, timelapse series and data.
  2. Trail formation by ice-shoved “sailing stones” observed at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park. R. Lorenz et al. (2014) Submitted to “Earth Surface Dynamics” (see the open discussion on the paper here).
    • Principal images from Lorenz et al. (2014) – Figures 1-6 by Ralph Lorenz, Figure 7 by Jim Norris.

      Images may be used freely but must include a prominent caption crediting the photographer and citing www.racetrackplaya.org and/or the ESurfD paper as source.

      Contact Ralph Lorenz (http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/~rlorenz) for further timelapse, kite, and other images and data.

      Left frame acquired at 09.16h on 9 Jan 2014, Right frame at 12.08h. The central small rock in the foreground was observed in motion by J. Chabourne (see above video).
      Left frame acquired at 09.16h on 9 Jan 2014, Right frame at 12.08h. The central small rock in the foreground was observed in motion by J. Chadbourne (see above video).
  3. Declining rock movement at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: an indicator of climate change? R. Lorenz & B. Jackson. Geomorphology (2014).

    Examines the record of rock movement and suggests climate change has reduced its frequency since the 1970s (the observation of movement this year does not qualitatively change the conclusion.)

    Free pre-print available here.

Some other papers at http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/~rlorenz.