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I am thinking of adding an element to my world that is primarily desert that consists of a semi liquid sea of possibly high silica sand that's inundated with salt water. Would such a mixture have the effect of a sea like body of sand?

Thank you for your time

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  • $\begingroup$ Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Nov 21, 2022 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ "Would such a mixture have the desired effect?" . . . But I will not tell anybody what the desired effect is! $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 21, 2022 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed @AlexP ^^, can you tell back some -but not all!- desired effects you talked about (the islands for instance)? $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ no it would just consolidate just like real world beaches. I suggest searching existing questions about quicksand seas. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 21, 2022 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ If the ground is quaking it can exhibit [soil liquefaction].(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_liquefaction) So, can your world be constantly quaking? Perhaps at a frequency that liquefies sand? $\endgroup$
    – AlexQueue
    Nov 22, 2022 at 16:18

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Two words: "Gassy ground".

You might know that the idea of a desert that works like a sea of liquid has been used in various games and movies. What you may not know is that that can actually happen in real life. It's called sand fluidization, and it's basically about having gas coming from the ground in regularly space openings and with enough pressure as to generate a force that essentially counteracts gravity, making the sand behave much like a liquid, or rather like a fluid.

enter image description here

The main problem really is to get this to work. It's been done artificially by us and up to hot tub size as far as I'm aware, but for it to work on a desert scale would require a very specific type of ground and A COLOSSAL AMOUNT of gas coming out of it at all times. You might want to add this landmark to the handwave bill, as such a terrain probably shouldn't last for long unless very specific conditions are kept. You might even have portions of the desert where the flow of gas and composition of the ground creates islands.

I'm not exactly sure how this would work for wildlife, but given how we have creatures adapted to swimming on non fluidized sand (such as sandfish), it's not impossible for something to adapt to living in this conditions by developing traits similar to bony fish or other adaptations that enable them to change their own buoyancy. Boats also may be able to float properly under the right conditions depending on their size, weight and volume.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, this was a pretty good idea. I've seen some of those videos. They're amazing. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 22, 2022 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ Reference to an old question of mine worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/161034/… which has the same answer and some more links for this effect. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Nov 22, 2022 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Is this the sandfish you're referring to? Apparently, there are several animals that are sometimes called sandfish. $\endgroup$
    – DLosc
    Nov 22, 2022 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DLosc that's the one. I honestly never heard anything else getting called that. The more you know. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2022 at 19:40
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There is one problem you simply can't overcome: the density of sand is greater than the density of water. For something to float, it must have a density less than water. Because sand's density is greater than water, it will always sink.

Condition #1: A lot of sand, some water.

Yours is a desert world, but even desert worlds have bedrock. So let's assume an area of bedrock shaped like a bowl but filled with sand. As you add water, the sand gets soggy. If you don't fill it too fast, you eventually get a bowl full of wet sand. You can have life in this condition, but not fish. "Swimming" (as we traditionally think of it) isn't possible.

Condition #2: A lot of water, some sand.

Consider the same bowl full of sand, but this time we'll add water fast enough that erosion can occur. Eventually you have a bowl full of water with some sand on the bottom. Even if we consider this like a sea (no outlet), you'll have salty water, but it's still water with a sandy sea bottom.

Condition #3: We take advantage of surface tension

A finely ground sand (a small grain) can float on water! It's not that the density is lower than water, it's that the mass of the grain is insufficient to break the surface tension of water. You can make the surface absolutely opaque in this way. However, as the amount of fine grain sand builds on the surface, you'll occasionally get globs of sand that fall beneath the surface and sink. How thick can the sand get? Not very. While the thickness varies greatly with the nature of the sand and the salinity of the water, etc., I'd be surprised if you could get a consistent thickness much more than a millimeter or two.

Condition #4: Sand... made of igneous rock.

We can circumvent some of the problems of sand density using igneous rock. What is igneous rock?

Igneous rocks (from the Latin word for fire) form when hot, molten rock crystallizes and solidifies. The melt originates deep within the Earth near active plate boundaries or hot spots, then rises toward the surface. Igneous rocks are divided into two groups, intrusive or extrusive, depending upon where the molten rock solidifies. (Source)

The beautiful thing about igneous rock is that it's common for air to be trapped inside the rock's porous interior. The rock has a higher density than water, but the aggregate density of the rock (due to the buoyancy of air) is less than water! Now we're cooking with gas! You can get a LOT of rocks floating in water this way.

For a while...

The other problem with igneous rock is that they're, well, porous. Which means the water will eventually seep into the rock, displace the air, and the sand will sink.

Condition #5: Pumice Stone

But there is one option: pumice stone. Pumice stone is a specific type of igneous rock. It can float for a long time... but not forever.

When Havre erupted in 2012, it produced a large amount of floating pumice so we know the eruption was explosive. Ocean currents swept the floating pumice along, some of it as far as the eastern coast of Australia. Pumice doesn’t float forever—water seeps slowly into the holes in the pumice, making it heavier and heavier until it sinks to the seafloor. (Source)

Conclusion

There are temporary ways in Real Life to get what you want: a sea of soggy sand that's mostly water. But Real Life is against you and no permanent solution exists. You can get closer using biomatter (swamps, peat bogs, etc.), but even that might not be quite what you're looking for. There is, of course, nothing stopping you from declaring that your world has exactly the kind of sea you're looking for and ignore the explanation. But if you need the explanation, I believe temporary is the best you can get.

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    $\begingroup$ If you had constant e.g. CO2 outgassing from the water, it could potentially nucleate bubbles on the porous media and keep small particles of the media afloat indefinitely. Pores, etc strongly induce bubble nucleation. Then the question reduces down to "Can I make quite a lot of CO2 in a sea", which shouldn't be too hard. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Nov 22, 2022 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ Condition 5: upwelling of water that brings sand with it, aka quicksand $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2022 at 9:32
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I'm going to throw a hard no on this if you're talking about silicates. Any significant thickness would crush the lower strata together, making sandstone. It gets even worse if you add salt water. Silicates are very slightly water soluble, causing the salt water to act like glue under pressure over geological time periods.

Since this is science fiction, however, let's consider a small ocean of fullerenes. These are very low density (1.56 x water), has negligible solubility, and little reactivity. The one problem would be that it's flammable, so you probably couldn't put your fullerene desert near volcanos.

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You need flocculants. Make sodium silicate slip

Sodium silicate (waterglass), as well as some other chemicals, is a flocculant. You can use them to make clay into slip, which is semi-liquid and a dilatant, like quicksand. Potters use it to make high fired ceramics.

Take some toothpaste and squirt it out of the tube. While it moves it goes thin, but when it ceases to move it becomes almost solid.

I once poured a few litres of waterglass into some soil in my garden thinking it would eventually dry out and turn hard. It took about a year before that spot became normal again.

Now, sodium silicate can dry out (and go incredibly hard and strong) ; you'll need to ensure some minimum water content. Over time CO2 will decrease its pH and cause it to drop out. So you need some reason why the pH stays high, or to use some other neutral pH flocculants. Extremophiles? Ammonia? Who knows?

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