Quicksand Information


Quicksand Information

What is quicksand, really?

The science definition, down to the basic nuts and bolts:

In its most strictly construed definition, quicksand is a mixture of sand and water that exhibits thixotropic behavior.

"Thixotropic behavior" is a term from rheology (the science of fluid flow) meaning that a pseudoplastic fluid exhibits a time-dependent decrease in viscosity.

A "pseudoplastic" fluid is a non-Newtonian fluid in which the viscosity decreases as the shear stress increases.

"Viscosity" is the "thickness" or resistance to flow of a liquid. Water has a very low viscosity (it flows well). Molasses, on the other hand, has a very high viscosity.

A Newtonian fluid is one (like water or molasses) where the viscosity is pretty much constant under normal stress. A "non-Newtonian fluid," however, can change in viscosity in response to stress. Examples of non-Newtonian fluids include transmission fluid, ketchup, and a mixture of cornstarch and water.

"Shear stress" refers to stress (pressure) that deforms something without changing its volume.

So here's what we have:

  • Regular fluids have a constant viscosity, even under stress.
  • Pseudoplastic fluids decrease their viscosity based on the current amount of shear stress applied to them.
  • Thixotropic fluids decrease their viscosity based on the amount of shear stress applied and the length of time that the stress is applied.

The classic example of quicksand's thixotropic behavior occurs when a progression of vehicles is passing through an area containing quicksand. The first vehicle is the least likely to have problems, but as each succeeding vehicle passes, exerting pressure on the quicksand, the viscosity of the quicksand continues to decrease until it is unable to support the weight and a passing vehicle will become mired, even if it is smaller and lighter than those that went before. The same principle can occur with people travelling in a row, although this is somewhat less common since people tend to say "hey, this is quicksand, let's take a different path" unless they are Deep Sinking members.

This most literal kind of "quicksand" is most frequently encountered in riverbeds and tidal areas where water is pushed through a bed of sand with enough force to create fluid conditions.

It is important to note that this is not a practical definition, as quicksand "in the wild" can be subject to a number of conditions that alter its properties and behavior from the above-described "laboratory conditions," such as a "crust" of dried sand over the top of it where water has been evaporated away.

Due to the specific gravity (density) of "real" quicksand, it is virtually impossible for a person to sink and disappear into it. Although this can and does happen, such incidents are exceedingly rare and tend to involve additional weight, such as heavy metal-frame backpacks. The vast majority of deaths involving quicksand occur as a result of exposure: a person becomes trapped and unable to escape and then dies as a result of starvation, cold, or rising rides.

Furthermore, there are a large number of other substances which are colloquially referred to as "quicksand" even though they may not be made of sand and water, and may not display thixotropic behavior at all. Even "ordinary" mud, if deep enough, is likely to be referred to as "quicksand" by people who have encountered it. Some of these, such as bogs containing large amounts of decaying vegetable matter, may actually be more dangerous than "real" quicksand due to lower densities.

Please note that there is a lot of bad science on the web on the subject of quicksand. Don't believe everything you read, including what's here.

What is the popular perception of quicksand?

The popular perception of quicksand has been created and sustained almost entirely by movies and television shows. According to such sources, quicksand is most often found in jungles and swamps, and anyone who becomes trapped in it is probably doomed unless they are the hero or the hero is suitably close at hand.

Since this portrayal is so unrealistic, there is a reactionary popular view that quicksand is a myth and does not actually exist. Although it is true that "killer quicksand" (term borrowed from an episode of "Mythbusters") does not exist (but see above about vegetable matter bogs), quicksand and similar substances certainly do exist.

What does "quicksand" mean on Deep Sinking?

For the most part, the Deep Sinking definition of "quicksand" has its roots in the Hollywood portrayal: a deep, sucking morass that tends to devour its victims for which the best advice is almost always, "don't struggle, you'll only sink faster." However, for people on Deep Sinking, this tends to be just a jumping-off point. (Or, if you prefer, a "jumping-in" point.)

Deep Sinkers are, in general, willing to call virtually anything "quicksand" if it exhibits certain key properties:

  • Quicksand is dangerous. (That's how you can tell "sinking in quicksand" from "rolling around in mud," for example.)
  • Quicksand is deep, if not "bottomless." (That's one thing that makes it dangerous.
  • Quicksand is thick, not watery.
  • Quicksand is very, very difficult to escape from. (It may even be impossible without a lot of help, or maybe it's just plain impossible.)

Here are some other attributes that many people ascribe to quicksand, but they aren't quite as universal as those above.

  • Quicksand can be scary.
  • Quicksand can be sensual and sexy.
  • Quicksand can be a form of bondage.
  • Quicksand can be a villain all by itself, or the tool of a villain.

Within this more flexible fantasy realm, a large variety of substances have occasionally fallen under the heading of "quicksand" on Deep Sinking:

  • "real" quicksand
  • deep mud
  • wet cement
  • tar pits
  • clay pits
  • peat bogs
  • grain silos
  • large vats of sticky foods (peanut butter, chocolate)
  • and more!

To some extent, every Deep Sinker has their own idea about what "quicksand" is.