March 30, 2011

Moving Rocks of Death Valley

Research conducted at the Racetrack Playa area in Death Valley by both NASA and students of Slipperyrock University has led to interesting theories and conclusions over strange phenomena of rocks that seem to move by themselves. At first, NASA suggests the rocks are most likely moved by strong wind gusts across the Playa with calculations stating at least 150 mph would be necessary to move the largest rocks tipping scales at nearly 700 pounds.

Photographs of some of the rocks though call this theory into question as tall or slender rocks would be blown over under those conditions.Students of Slipperyrock determined that a slope does exist across the Playa, by which the rocks may slowly move away from, but feel it is far too insignificant to affect the movement. The students also gathered research on radiation and magnetic anomaly data during the exploration process of cause elimination.

Data presented by NASA and Slipperyrock students does not encompass the entire dynamic system at work in the Death Valley region. In reference to NASA's wind theory and pictured rocks which are proportionately more vertical than girth; high wind forces against those sail-like rocks would logically cause them to tumble along the flats yet the transient path is smooth, consistent, and highly accurate in alignment to a rock surface traveling along a single face.

In reference to the students of Slipperyrock and the slope discovery; this seems to be on the right track, almost literally. Even-though the slope may appear minuscule and insignificant enough to move large rocks, it might be a positive indicator to a processes happening below the flats. Slope findings dismiss the possibility of an optical illusion where the surrounding area tricks the viewer into thinking the area is level or sloping in a different direction.

New-age theory suggests Death Valley and Racetrack Playa are part of a super-dynamic tectonic system influenced by deep area seismic activity. The entire flat plain fluctuates in a double see-saw type motion. Transients demonstrate the path relative to activity which previously took place below the surface. Like a dynamic bellows, pressure placed on one end of the plain causes another end to rise or tilt respectively. In this case the pressures are applied below ground, forcing parts of the crust to inflate and retract.

Recent slope measurements demonstrate the rocks seem to be moving in a very slow upward incline indicating the system's fluctuation has since changed. Visualization of this is thinking of the flat plain as an upside-down trampoline. When pressure excites one section of the trampoline, the object at the pressure point is forced away, similar to the rocks at Racetrack Playa. Tension differential, though, is why the rocks do not jump from one place to the next.

Instead, the rocks slide along as different tethers which push upward and then relax. This is why in certain areas large groups of rocks seem to move together while others nearby don't. Areas moving together are affected by the same tether. The entire system is composed of several independent tethers relative to the activity below. Essentially, by tectonic process in a linear fashion, pushing on one side of the valley creates enough tension to bulge areas of the surface until the opposite side shifts ever to slightly, releasing the pressure and removing the bulges.
Further scientific research suggests the rocks on the Playa may be moving by drastic temperature changes. The desert gets very hot during the day and temperatures plummet at night dramatically. Cold nights and presence of water may freeze parts of the Playa only to rapidly thaw when the sun rises. Frost heave could cause the surface to expand and move rocks along with it. Frozen water may also be a catalyst here on the surface, suggesting many rapid freezing and thawing days inch the rocks forward. For frost heave to be true, wouldn’t the ground be moving as well, and leave mounds behind instead of a completely flat surface?