What is quicksand?

Quicksand is more likely to occur near a water source.

The thought of quicksand often inspires fear in people, as many believe that getting caught in it will quickly result in drowning. In fact, this is not the case. People are lighter than quicksand, and if they don’t fight, they will quickly rise to the top. This substance is just ordinary sand, but it can make a person sink because it has become saturated with water.

Quicksand can occur anywhere in the world, but it is most likely to occur near a source of water, such as a stream, river, ocean, or lake. When the sand is exposed to water a little bit, it actually becomes more compact. A little water increases the friction on the sand, making it stick together. That’s why people tend to use water in building sandcastles, as water helps to hold the shapes.

However, too much water causes the sand particles to lose friction. The sand separates quickly when weight is placed on it, as a person stepping on a flower bed might do. The term, therefore, applies to sand that quickly allows a person to sink into it.

Quicksand portraits are highly exaggerated, however. People tend to drown in quicksand only when they wave their arms and legs. This makes them sink in because they are literally helping the sand to separate. On the other hand, the person who does not panic and who places his hands and legs slightly apart, moving as slowly as possible, will not sink. As in water, people naturally float in quicksand.

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Also, quicksand is not a bottomless pit that will suck a person down to the very core of the earth. In fact, some quicksands are only about 2 to 4 feet (about 0.61-1.22 m) deep, although that depth can cause some difficulty when a person tries to get out. It is often much easier to get into quicksand (or water) than to get out of it, because density creates a vacuum-like effect. Again, the key is moving too slowly to come out.

Quicksand sometimes causes problems when it forms under buildings, which have a much greater mass than a single person. In times of flooding over sand, theoretically, regular sand could become quicksand and cause the mass of a building to sink. This subsidence can also cause structural instability in the building and precipitate collapse, especially in the event of earthquakes.

However, individuals need not fear quicksand if they remember “fast sand, slow motion”. Even a person who falls headfirst into it will likely float to the surface very quickly if they don’t fight.

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