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The mystery of Death Valley’s moving rocks has been solved!

Another example of “something new under the sun,” that is actually quite old, indeed…. Geologists have theorized about the moving rocks since the 1940s! reported the findings of two researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego who studied how large rocks, some that weigh hundreds of pounds, can zigzag across Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park. The rocks leave long trails etched in the earth, but up until now, there was no evidence for HOW the rocks moved!

Richard Norris, a paleobiologist at Scripps, and James Norris, his cousin and a research engineer, launched their “Slithering Stones Research Initiative” in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times. After they received permits from the National Park Service, the two installed a weather station in the area and placed 15 stones with global positioning systems (GPS) on the south end of the playa, where stones begin their journey after rolling down a cliff. The stones could record movement and velocity.

When the Norris cousins returned at the end of 2013, they found the playa covered with ice and noticed fresh rock trails near shards of thin ice stacked against the shoreline. reports:

The following afternoon, “we were sitting on a mountainside and admiring the view when a light wind kicked up and the ice started cracking,” he said. “Suddenly, the whole process unfolded before our eyes.”

The movement of the rocks becomes possible when ice sheets that form after rare, overnight rains MELT with the rising sun. The hard ground becomes slick and muddy.

In a report published Wednesday in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE, the two researchers reported, “Observed rock movement occurred on sunny, clear days, following nights of subfreezing temperatures.” According to the report, the rocks move at about 15 feet per minute!

-Bill at

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