We suggest that the existence of many of the rock-carved trails at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is predominantly due to the effect of arbitrarily weak winds on rocks that are floated off the soft bed by small rafts of ice, as also occurs in arctic tidal beaches to form boulder barricades. These ice cakes need not have a particularly large surface area if the ice is adequately thick—the ice cakes allow the rocks to move by buoyantly reducing the reaction and friction forces at the bed, not by increasing the wind drag. The parameter space of ice thickness and extent versus rock size for flotation is calculated and found to be reasonable. We demonstrate the effect with a simple experiment.
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January 01 2011
Ice rafts not sails: Floating the rocks at Racetrack Playa
Ralph D. Lorenz;
Brian K. Jackson;
Jason W. Barnes;
Ralph D. Lorenz, Brian K. Jackson, Jason W. Barnes, Joe Spitale, John M. Keller; Ice rafts not sails: Floating the rocks at Racetrack Playa. Am. J. Phys. 1 January 2011; 79 (1): 37–42. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.3490645
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