From the Washington Post:
There’s a barren lake bed in the Death Valley National Park in California defined by its many long serpentine tracks, etched into the landscape by massive stones that move somewhat miraculously across the mud.
It’s called Racetrack Playa — and for decades geologists have been chasing the “sailing stones” at play there. One of the first scientific studies, published in 1948, suggested the rock motion was driven by dust devils. Most recently, a couple of U.S. scientists hypothesized it was hurricane-force winds that were doing the deed. But it wasn’t until now that science has revealed a plausible explanation for how these stones leave their “racetrack” imprints through the playa: It takes a kind of perfect storm.
The Racetrack Playa must first fill with water — deep enough to float massive sheets of ice, yet still shallow enough to leave the rocks exposed. Nighttime temperatures must then get cold enough to freeze the water, forming mammoth-size ice panes — thin enough to glide across the lake bed, yet thick enough to gain momentum and clear the stones in their way.
As the next day’s afternoon sun thaws the ice, these sheets break apart into chunks that, with any luck, a steady wind will propel across the playa pool. When the ice chunks hit the rocks — ranging from pebble to boulder-size pieces weighing up to 200 pounds – the stones are driven across the soft mud below, leaving behind their signature trails.
See the full article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/28/scientists-may-have-solved-the-mystery-of-death-valleys-sailing-stones/
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