The beef slider is no mystery. No telltail trail needed to detect the movement of a beef patty from plate to face, but for the sliding rocks of Death Valley the mystery of how and why they move about the playa has remained an unexplained mystery spanning decades. Such prestigious scientific organizations as NASA and Royal Geological Society of England have studied the slippery rocks of Death Valley and tried make sense of their elusive travel destinations. This month's presenter will explain how and under what conditions those rocks move, having intrumented them, observed them and been the first actual eyewitness to thier movement. These new findings have made global headlines as one of modern science's unknowns are now well documented and answered thanks to our presenters team efforts.
Conditions Perfect - Ready to Move
Sliding Rocks of Racetrack Playa
Rock Movement without aliens or giant magnets, just floating ice and light winds
Jim Norris - Engineer/Geologist/Pilot
Abstract of Talk
An enduring mystery in Geology is why and how rocks move of their own accord over a nearly flat, mud-cracked lake bed in Death Valley National Park--the Racetrack Playa. We set up the "Slithering Stones Research Initiative” and installed a weather station on the Racetrack in an attempt resolve the question. We also outfitted 15 rocks with custom GPS loggers to record when rocks moved, how fast they went and where they went. In late December 2013 , Richard Norris and I were very lucky to actually witness the stones in motion. Our GPS instrumented stones indicated movement as much as 224 m at up to about 6 meters/minute. In late November 2013 through mid February, data showed 2014 rocks moved at least 5 times during this period and perhaps as many as 9 times. The driving mechanisms for rock movement appeared to be a thin (2-4 mm) sheet of floating ice being driven by light (3-5 m/sec) winds near mid day. Having the opportunity to actually observe the rocks in movement, video taping this event along with extensive yearly data provided conclusive scientific evidence of the factors needed to move tiny pebbles to 700 lbs. playa bolders. I will be explaining all of the factors that are necessary to move unattended rocks accross the wide expanses of a wetted, ice prone playa. Satellite observations suggest the phenomenon is probably widespread on western North American playa lakes (although highly episodic) but most lakes to don’t have a large supply of stones to form rock trails.
The Presenter - James (Jim) M. Norris
James (Jim) Norris is a lifelong resident of Santa Barbara, where he works as an instrumentation development engineer for his consulting company Interwoof. Over the years the Interwoof team has developed control software for a high power research X-Ray system, a holographic anti-piracy technology for the optical disc industry and a secure counterfeit resistant paper technology. Interwoof additionally developed the custom GPS loggers used in the Racetrack playa research effort.
Though an engineer by training, Mr. Norris also refers to himself as an osmotic geologist, having spent much time accompanying his father (the late UCSB professor of Geology, Robert Norris) to many interesting geologic localities throughout North America and Oceana. Mr. Norris is an accomplished soaring pilot, photographer and a lifelong student of Natural History with particular interest in deserts of the world.
He first became interested in the Racetrack playa phenomena during field trips in the 1960’s with his father. Following a visit in 2011, Jim teamed up with his cousin, Prof. Richard Norris of Scripps Institute to devise a research program to closely observe the playa. Results of those observations are the topic of his talk.
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Updated Jan. 16th, 2015 Jan Program, PSAAPG and upcomming