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Earth News

Scientists Solve Mystery of Ireland's Moving Boulders 127

Hugh Pickens writes "How has a 78-ton boulder traveled 130 meters inland from the sea since 1991? Live Science reports that geologists have puzzled for years over the mysterious boulders that litter the desolate coastline of Ireland's Aran Islands that somehow move on their own when no one is looking. The sizes of the boulders in the formations range 'from merely impressive to mind-bogglingly stupendous,' writes geoscientist Rónadh Cox. While some researchers contend that only a tsunami could push these stones, new research finds that plain old ocean waves, with the help of some strong storms, do the job. Some boulders move inland at an average rate of nearly 3 meters per decade, with one rock moving 3.5 meters vertically and 69 meters horizontally in one year. The team compared modern high-altitude photos of the coastline to a set of meticulous maps from 1839 that identified the location of the boulders' ridges — nearly 100 years after the most recent tsunami to hit the region, which struck in 1755. The Aran cliffs rise nearly vertically out of the Atlantic (video), leaving very deep water close to the shore. As waves slam into the sheer cliff, that water is abruptly deflected back out toward the oncoming waves. This backflow may amplify subsequent waves resulting an occasional storm wave that is much larger than one would expect. 'There's a tendency to attribute the movement of large objects to tsunami,' says Cox. 'We're saying hold the phone. Big boulders are getting moved by storm waves.'"
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Scientists Solve Mystery of Ireland's Moving Boulders

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  • by hmmm ( 115599 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @05:22AM (#39925307)

    Next thing "science" will probably try and explain moving statues.

    • Re:Well holy god (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thePig ( 964303 ) <> on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:02AM (#39925459) Journal

      My understanding is that they have not solved it, rather they have just suggested a mechanism. They found that even when there are no tsunamis the rocks are moving. They now think that storm waves could be a reason for it. If I understand correctly, they have not done the calculations for it.

      So, now we have a hypothesis. Once the calculations and simulations are done, only then we will know for sure. Moving such big rocks means a lot of energy. Especially when it doesnt float. Can a positive feedback loop generate this much energy ? If so, who knows, positive feedback tidal waves could be the next big thing in renewable energy :)

    • Don't. Blink.
  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @05:24AM (#39925313)
    I was always told the cause of seeing boulders move in Ireland was Whiskey.
    • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:02AM (#39925461)

      I was always told the cause of seeing boulders move in Ireland was Whiskey.

      Depends... if you see the boulder moving up, 't's Whiskey and you're lying on the ground... if downward, it's stout (and you're taking a leak on the boulder).

    • by bazmail ( 764941 )
      haha yes. and france surrenders and in russia thing are opposite.
      • Dr. Brian O'Nolan, aka Miles nCopaleen, one of Ireland's greatest humorous writers and a great student of the Irish language, once remarked that the only four words you really needed to know to get by in Western Ireland were downpour, eternity, whiskey and potatoes. The French, on the other hand, were frequently militarily successful until the start of WW2 (and, as the US discovered, weren't the only round-eyes who couldn't hold on to Vietnam), whereas the Russians themselves joke about the perversity of li
        • by bazmail ( 764941 )
          Living in the west of Ireland myself (Galway), I can tell you that is not true. I've never even heard of that improbably named gentleman who you claim is "one of Ireland's greatest humorous writers and a great student of the Irish language". (An unlikely name as in Irish, n never goes before c, also double-e would be an i "fada")

          Maybe he markets himself to americans as such to part you from your hard-earned. Who knows.

          A lot of Irish (and especially English, e.g. John Cleese, Sharon Osbourne etc) make
          • by hmmm ( 115599 )

            You've never heard of Myles na gCopaleen/Flann O'Brien? Seriously? Ask some of your friends have they heard of him, I guarantee most will.

          • Brian O'Nolan []

            Brian O'Nolan (Irish: Brian Ó Nualláin) (5 October 1911 – 1 April 1966) was an Irish novelist, playwright and satirist regarded as a key figure in postmodern literature.[1] Born in Strabane, County Tyrone, he is best known for English language novels such as At Swim-Two-Birds, and The Third Policeman (written under the nom de plume Flann O'Brien) as well as many satirical columns in The Irish Times and an Irish language novel An Béal Bocht (written under the name Myles na gCopaleen), O'Nolan has also been referred to as a "scientific prophet" in relation to his writings on thermodynamics, quaternion theory and atomic theory.

          • by readin ( 838620 )

            A lot of Irish (and especially English, e.g. John Cleese, Sharon Osbourne etc) make a living in America by pandering to long held ethnic stereotypes that Americans fully believe in.

            It is one thing to laugh at a stereotype; it is quite another to "fully believe in" it. If you really believe that all or even most Americans "fully believe in" those stereotypes, then I suggest that you have made the mistake of fully believing in an incorrect stereotype.

  • Sea aliens?? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <> on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @05:28AM (#39925325) Homepage

    Why would anyone think that sea aliens would do such a thing, when there are Selkies [] about?

    • Why would anyone think that sea aliens would do such a thing, when there are Selkies [] about?

      Especially in the Shetlands where they resemble small horses.

  • Maybe the boulders can float. These rocks don't look like basalt/granite and can therefore move around more easily when submerged.
    • "And what also floats in water?"

      "...Very small rocks!"

      I'm afraid the Scientists of the Knights of the Round Table have concluded that only *tiny* rocks may float as you suggest.

  • by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:17AM (#39925509)

    In the middle of one of our courtyards, we had a small shrine with a statue of Mary, depicting the appearance of her at Lourdes. There was also a lot of rocks and plants for decoration.

    One day, we came into school and one of the larger boulders had been moved across the yard to the other side. It had a note attached to it saying "It's a miracle, it moved!".

    True story.

  • Are they sure that it wasn't Ireland that was moving instead?

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Old joke: How many Irish does it take to change a light bulb? Three, one to hold the bulb and two to drink until the room spins.

      Those rocks are probably just drunk. They are Irish, after all.

  •'s the Leprechauns.

  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @07:22AM (#39925763) Homepage Journal

    has no one heard of the sailing stones? []

    Sailing stones, sliding rocks, and moving rocks all refer to a geological phenomenon where rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention. They have been recorded and studied in a number of places around Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, where the number and length of travel grooves are notable. The force behind their movement is not confirmed and is the subject of research.

    Which by the way- occur on land masses devoid of water????

  • FTFA (first line):

    How did a 78-ton boulder travel 17 miles above high water, 130 meters inland?

    This is the start of an entirely different news article that I can complete in two words: it didn't.

  • by kbg ( 241421 )

    I can't believe that this was a mystery. This is completely obvious to anyone who can think. There is a similar phenomenon with the moving rocks in the Death Valley. If you have water and wind you can basically move anything given enough time.

    • In all fairness, though, this 'new' research doesn't so much offer an explanation as a different theory than that derived from previous research. The use of indefinite terms (such as " backflow may amplify") indicate to me the questionably validity of their 'results.' The day "may" and "could" equate to "will" and "does" is the day I turn in my skeptic's credentials.

      Not to mention one of the team being quoted as “Unless you have little green men from mars doing this on the quiet, it must be storm wav
  • Aren't leprechauns much more parsimonious?

  • The oceans are just receding

  • And thus the leprechauns secret was safe for another 100 years
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @10:30AM (#39927509) Homepage Journal

    Instead of "Scientists Solve Mystery of Ireland's Moving Boulders" it should read "Scientists *Deepen* Mystery of Ireland's Moving Boulders."

    This is what the linked article amounts to. Scientists believed that tsunamis moved the boulders in question. Comparing aerial photos to old surveys of the islands show that can't be the explanation, because boulders have moved since the last tsunami. The scientists then speculated that it might be rogue waves. Then they ginned up a plausible mechanism by which rogue waves might be more common on Aran than thought. Because it was plausible they concluded that *must* be the explanation, because the next best thing they could think up is little green men.

    For the record, I think rogue waves moved the boulders. I've seen what waves can do to stony reefs, and the power of water is not to be underestimated. But I have no proof, and neither do they. If the articles are to be believed (which is often doubtful), they researchers are building models around the *assumption* that it must have been rogue waves. Using such a model as evidence of its assumptions would be begging the question.

  • Or just inconsistent writing?

    "How has a 78-ton boulder traveled 130 meters inland from the sea since 1991? ... Some boulders move inland at an average rate of nearly 3 meters per decade,....

    The way I learned math 130m in 21 years is much greater than 3m/decade.

  • This is evidence that, as suggested by Aristotle thousands of years ago, rocks have free will. They are not pulled to the center of the earth by an "invisible" force as was suggested by Newton, but the rocks prefer to be closer to larger rocks, of which our planet is a colony of closely connected rocks. The rocks in Ireland are most likely moving inland of their own free will so they can self-assemble into structures such as the one found at Stonehenge in England. Even when faced with clear and convincin

  • "Once a corral of wooden stakes was placed around two of the rocks. The team then left. (Remember, the rocks won't move when anyone is around.) When they returned, one rock had moved out, while the other stayed in the corral. The rocks seem to slide rather than roll, but to this day, no one knows why. The only certainty is that something is either pushing or pulling them."

    TFA is a good theory for Ireland but there must be something else at work in Death Valley. Ice has been ruled out as well.

    http://voices.y []

  • I thought this phenomena also occurred int he high desert of chile? Ocean waves will not explain those ones..
  • It's pretty easy for moving water to move large rocks. Their "weight" underwater is far less than in air.
  • It's ghosts, and water that move the rocks. I mean, what happens when you put a rock on water? it sinks, clearly water can't move rocks~

    This is all made up so scientists can get grants and force more taxes down are thought.

    AGW sound like this, but 100 times worse.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.