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Scooting on a Wet Bottom: Some undersea landslides ride a nearly frictionless slick of water

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9:40am, January 21, 2004

Hydroplaning, the traction-sapping phenomenon that makes high-speed driving dangerous on rainy days, may be responsible for the unexpectedly large distances covered by some undersea avalanches, according to new computer simulations.

Sediments carried by rivers often accumulate in thick layers on the sloping seafloors surrounding the continents. When large deposits of that material break loose, the huge flows of silt, clay, and mud that result wreck everything in their paths. Among the victims can be entire communities of seafloor life as well as ocean-floor pipelines and communications cables, says Anders Elverhi of the University of Oslo.

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