Is quicksand really as dangerous as movies depict?

·2 min read
Is quicksand really as dangerous as movies depict?
Is quicksand really as dangerous as movies depict?

We've all seen the footage.

In the 1960s, disastrous quicksand scenes appeared in one out of every 35 films. In the 1980s, quicksand's spotlight had dwindled, but it still appeared in roughly one out of every 75 films.

So: what's the science behind quicksand? And is the stuff you see in movies a real-life threat?

The short answer, according to Mark Knight, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo, is no.

"What happens with quicksand is we have water flowing upwards, and it starts to carry the particles. So they actually separate. And if the water force is big enough, it drags the particles up. So they are no longer in contact. And that's what we call quicksand."

In movies quicksand traps its victims, and the more they struggle, the more they get pulled down.

That doesn't match up with the real world.

"If water is flowing upwards and pulling the particles apart, it will also pull you upwards," Dr. Knight says.

Ok - but what about mud? you can definitely get stuck in that. Are there any risks we should be aware of?

"What happens in mud is you've got wet and saturated clay, and when you stick your foot into with a rubber boot, the clays stick to your feet. And as you start to pull up, what you create negative pore water pressure, so you create a suction that's holding your boot into the ground," Dr. Knight says.

In other words: you can get stuck in the mud, but you won't go down very far.

But if you somehow manage get firmly lodged in muddy water, experts say the best way to free yourself is to lean back, so you can distribute your weight over a larger area. Then, make slow back and forth movements. Don't worry - moving won't cause you to sink down further.

Quotes have been edited for brevity.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting