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No. 88: Jul-Aug 1993

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Self-organized stone stripes

"Geometrically regular stripes of stones are found on many unvegetated alpine and polar hillslopes; known as 'sorted stripes' because of the characteristic textural sorting between surface stones and fine-grained soil, they contrast markedly with the lack of order typical of natural landscapes. The spacing of the stripes can range from centimeters to meters (about 10-20 times the average stone diameter), with individual stripes extending downslope for many tens of meters. A variety of formative mechanisms have been proposed, but it is still unclear how such orderly stripes can arise spontaneously, and what dictates the spacing."

B.T. Werner and B. Hallet, authors of the foregoing partial abstract, have mathematically simulated the displacement of surface stones under the forces generated by the growth of needle ice in the underlying soil. As the number of freeze-thaw cycles increases into the thousands, computer simulations show the surface stones gradually arraying themselves into linear patterns.

(Werner, B.T., and Hallet, B.; "Numerical Simulation of Self-Organized Stone Stripes," Nature, 361:142, 1993.)

Reference. These stone stripes represent just one type of "patterned ground." Other examples may be found in ETP1 in our catalog: Carolina Bays, Mima Mounds, described here.

From Science Frontiers #88, JUL-AUG 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987