How do stone forests get their spikes? New research offers pointed answer

September 07, 2020

Stone forests--pointed rock formations resembling trees that populate regions of China, Madagascar, and many other locations worldwide--are as majestic as they are mysterious, created by uncertain forces that give them their shape.

A team of scientists has now shed new light on how these natural structures are created. Its research, reported in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), also offers promise for the manufacturing of sharp-tipped structures, such as the micro-needles and probes needed for scientific research and medical procedures.

"This work reveals a mechanism that explains how these sharply pointed rock spires, a source of wonder for centuries, come to be," says Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and one of the paper's co-authors. "Through a series of simulations and experiments, we show how flowing water carves ultra-sharp spikes in landforms."

The researchers, who included Michael Shelley, a professor at the Courant Institute, note that the study also illuminates a mechanism that explains the prevalence of sharply pointed rock spires in karst--a topography formed by the dissolution of rocks, such as limestone.

In their study, the scientists simulated the formation of these pinnacles over time through a mathematical model and computer simulations that took into account how dissolving produces flows and how these flows also affect dissolving and thus reshaping of a formation.

To confirm the validity of their simulations, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in NYU's Applied Mathematics Lab. Here, the scientists replicated the formation of these natural structures by creating sugar-based pinnacles, mimicking soluble rocks that compose karst and similar topographies, and submerging them in tanks of water. Interestingly, no flows had to be imposed, since the dissolving process itself created the flow patterns needed to carve spikes.

The experimental results reflected those of the simulations, thereby supporting the accuracy of the researchers' model (see "Video2ExperimentSimulation" in the below drive). The authors speculate that these same events happen--albeit far more slowly--when minerals are submerged under water, which later recedes to reveal stone pinnacles and stone forests.
The paper's other co-authors included Jinzi Mac Huang, an NYU doctoral student at the time of the research, and Joshua Tong, an NYU undergraduate at the time of the study.

Download videos and images of the study here (credit: NYU's Applied Mathematics Lab):

The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (CBET-1805506).

New York University

Related Scientific Research Articles from Brightsurf:

Who's Tweeting about scientific research? And why?
Although Twitter is best known for its role in political and cultural discourse, it has also become an increasingly vital tool for scientific communication.

Weaving Indigenous knowledge with scientific research: a balanced approach
Insights from bicultural research can enhance practical applications from a palaeotsunami database to land-use decisions, according to a new review in Earth Surface Dynamics

Level of media coverage for scientific research linked to number of citations
An analysis of over 800 academic research papers on physical health and exercise suggests that the level of popular media coverage for a given paper is strongly linked to the attention it receives within the scientific community.

Spotting cutting-edge topics in scientific research using keyword analysis
Researchers from the University of Tsukuba conducted a quantitative keyword analysis of 30 million articles in the life sciences over a nearly fifty-year period (1970-2017) and found that 75% of total emerging keywords, at 1-year prior to becoming identified as emerging, co-appeared with other emerging keywords in the same article.

Calibration method improves scientific research performed with smartphone cameras
Although smartphones and other consumer cameras are increasingly used for scientific applications, it's difficult to compare and combine data from different devices.

AccessLab: New workshops to broaden access to scientific research
A team from the transdisciplinary laboratory FoAM Kernow and the British Science Association detail how to run an innovative approach to understanding evidence called AccessLab in a paper published on May 28 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology.

University of Idaho study finds scientific reproducibility does not equate to scientific truth
Reproducible scientific results are not always true and true scientific results are not always reproducible, according to a mathematical model produced by University of Idaho researchers.

Scientific research will help to understand the origin of life in the universe
Scientists from Samara University and several universities in the USA have proposed and experimentally confirmed new fundamental chemical mechanisms for the synthesis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

New research helps to inform the design of scientific advisory committees
At a time of 'fake news' and a growing mistrust of scientific experts, researchers at York University's Global Strategy Lab have produced new research to help inform the design of scientific advisory committees and help maximize the application of high-quality scientific research towards future policy and program decisions.

Jumping to scientific conclusions challenges biomedical research
Improving experimental design and statistical analyses alone will not solve the reproducibility crisis in science, argues Ray Dingledine in a societal impact article published in eNeuro.

Read More: Scientific Research News and Scientific Research Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to