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Sand Is Water

Though the cross-section of a rippled sand surface often assumes an outline which closely resembles both the actual cross-section of a disturbed water-air surface, and also the graph on a time basis of any simple vibration, the resemblance is in appearance only.
Ralph Bagnold, The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes

Water is cool, but how much cooler would it be if we replaced it with sand? Rivers, lakes, whirlpools, even whole oceans of sand that behave more or less exactly like a body of water are common in desert settings. Bonus points if there are ships that sail said sandy seas (say that ten times really fast). You will even often find native life swimming in (or above) these seas, with everything from Sand Guppies to full-blown Sand Worms.

A commonly found type is the sand whirlpool, which works in a similar manner to quicksand in that anyone who steps into one will be quickly pulled down and suffocate.

In a broader sense, this can also apply to when anything solid or semi-solid is treated like water. For instance, while swimming in a pool of coins.

While sand can act like a fluid, it is a non-Newtonian fluid which means it won't act like water. You can stand on it when it is stationary, for example, but not when it is fluidized. Just about everyone must have seen the experiment where you blow air through sand, giving a fluidized bed that behaves like water. It's also extremely abrasive: anything with sand running over it or through it is likely to be scoured down to nothing fairly quickly unless it's harder than quartz, especially if it has mechanical parts. It's also a tad difficult to breathe sand, whether you attempt it with gills or lungs. But, hey, it's cool enough so we can forgive it.

This is often a feature of the Shifting Sand Land or the Thirsty Desert. For another substance that is often treated like funny-looking water, see Lava is Boiling Kool-Aid.

Compare Space Is an Ocean, The Sky Is an Ocean. Contrast Water Is Air


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the manga Stone, this is pretty much what the entire world is like. It isn't quite "sand" or mud or water, but a combination of the three that pretty much behaves like water. Ships sail on it. Life lives in it, including whales, etc.
  • Secret of Cerulean Sand. Funny thing about this anime is that if you read the title, you'd think "this is Secret of Blue Water with sand"... and it basically is.
  • The Area 88 manga features a desert aircraft carrier: an aircraft carrier on tracks that can submerge itself in the sand and move around 'underwater.' It doesn't dive like a submarine, though; it pumps sand up to bury itself. It also has a few problems with overheating.
  • In Zoids: New Century Zero, the aquatic Zoid War Shark got the ability to swim though sand as well.
  • The terrain of the desert world of Project AKO: Blue Side/Grey Side seems to shift from sand to water at the whim of the writers and animators.
  • Most incarnations of Gundam have at least one "Land Battleship" that behaves like a seagoing ship, only in the desert. The biggest offender is probably Kazuhisa Kondo's manga adaptation of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, in which the Federation's Big Tray class, a futuristic giant hovercraft/tank thing in the original has been completely redesigned to look like a naval ship & features prominently throughout the "Earth-Arc", "sailing" around a desertified Eastern Europe (possibly justified as being actual naval ships that had simply been retrofitted with amphibious capability, but it's still a bloody silly thing to do).
    • Gundam SEED attempts a justification by saying the sand-ships use a "scale system", where the vibrations of micro-scales propel the ship in the same fashion as a fish's fins. Naturally, it works just as well underwater.
  • Heroic Age in the first episode features a squid-like creature that lives in the sand (though it can also hover above the ground) and has the main character dive into the sand to wrestle it underground.
  • Gaara from Naruto effortlessly controls sand, and with moves like "Sand Drizzle" and "Sand Waterfall", its obvious that Sand Is Water for him.
  • Played straight in Cardcaptor Sakura when Sakura and Syaoran are attacked by "The Sand" card whose main power appears to be this trope, even creates a sand whirpool!
  • Used during the Alabasta arc of One Piece where Luffy comes across pirates whose ships can travel on the desert for some reason. There is an attempted justification, at least in the English Dub, writing it off as the wind pushes their sails across similar to blowing a paper craft across a smooth surface. However, sand is very far from a smooth surface and should abrade the ships down to nothing over time.
    • Senor Pink of the Donquixote Pirates takes this Up to Eleven, as his Devil Fruit allows him to swim through any solid surface. Ironic when you remember that the Devil Fruits' main common weakness is Super Drowning Skills.
  • Sand ships and sand dolphins can be purchased in the ridiculously advanced future of Doraemon; in one Non-Serial Movie, Nobita and company discover that Sinbad the Sailor (of the Arabian Nights) was the beneficiary of such gifts from a grateful time traveling tourist who'd got stranded in the desert and saved by Sinbad.
  • The Sands of Destruction anime had this. Falling into sand made splashing noises, there were rowboats and motorboats that moved through sand like water, and a pair of apples were once seen falling into the sand...then acting like they were floating downriver. Taken Up to Eleven with a sand ocean... and a boat that docks from the sand ocean to the sand beach.
  • The Bardanos in Leiji Matsumoto's Ozuma could create a field that made sand behave exactly like water, allowing the ship to submerge like a submarine.
  • The Project A-Ko OAV Uncivil Wars, a mercenary trying to kidnap C-Ko has a craft that travels through sand like a submarine. B-Ko even use depth charges to attack the craft.

    Comic Books 
  • Sub Girl, part of the Tank Girl, Jet Girl and Sub Girl trifecta from the Tank Girl comics, pilots a submarine that sometimes travels underneath the desert sand.
  • In Lanfeust of the Stars, a planet has oceans of sand. Bonus points for having ships hunting sandwhales — including a giant white one.

    Film 
  • Lori Petty takes a shower in Tank Girl. In sand. Mmm.
    • Which people also do in Real Life in areas with little water— a dustbath may not get you clean, but it gets old oils, salts and sweat off your skin.
    • "Rain Lady" corresponds to the character "Sub Girl" from the comics, and plows her submarine through the desert for the Final Battle!
  • In the first Tremors movie, the survivors find themselves stranded on a rock "island" surrounded by Graboid "sharks".
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, the elderly chartered accountants in The Crimson Permanent Assurance sail across the desert in a piratized brownstone office building.
    "It's fun to charter an accountant / And sail the wide accountant-sea. / To find, explore, the funds off-shore / and skirt the shoals of bankruptcy! / It can be manly in insurance; / We'll up your premiums semi-annually. / It's all tax-deductible; / We're fairly in-corruptible; / We're sailing on a wide accountant-sea!"
  • The kids' film Magic Island featured a sand shark — which could be thwarted by feeding it bubble gum.
  • The Princess Bride has this. It's a lot more vicious in the novel.
  • The avalanche in Mulan is more Snow Is Water. Which, well, it is, though it doesn't usually behave exactly like it.
  • The horror movie Sand Sharks actually does make mention of the real creatures sand tiger sharks. But of course they are actually talking about a prehistoric version that can swim through sand.
  • Played with in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, when the crew arrives in the titular location looking for Jack, and find him standing triumphantly on the Pearl as it sails over a sand dune- only to discover it's being carried by thousands of little sand crabs.

    Literature 
  • Dune's sandworms swam through the deserts like they were water. The sandworms also generated intense heat and triggered some extremely powerful electromagnetic storms from all the friction.
    • Played even straighter with tidal dust basins, basins of dust so deep they have tides, which an unwary traveler can wander into and die.
    • Shortly after the Atreides' arrival on Arrakis, one House soldier declares his readiness for a nice hot shower, only to be told that he'll have to make do with sand.
    • In the Film of the Book 'Children of Dune', James McAvoy discovered that sand is most definitely NOT water (see 2:28 - 3:05 of this interview).
  • In Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, Ulrik (an incarnation of Elric) sails upon an ocean of salt. His boat is normal but pulled by two very large serpent-like creatures.
  • In Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Martians had sand ships.
  • Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel Trilogy had a Sea of Dust, over which the heroine sails a skiff in the second book. It's even got fisherfolk, whales, and sea serpents.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's A Fall of Moondust is based on the idea that some lunar basins are filled with very fine dust that behaves like a liquid. He accounts for some differences, by the way — the moonship Selene glides atop the dust, not really swims in it. Probably some smaller details are unrealistic, but we know that real moon dust is seemingly unrealistic, too. A case of Science Marches On.
  • Bruce Sterling's Involution Ocean is made of this trope.
  • William Goldman described this in great detail in The Princess Bride and later lampshades the research he did for it in The Color Of Light.
  • One of the Impossible Tasks in either Arabian Nights or the Grimm Fairy Tales (or possibly both) is "create a ship that can sail on sand (or land, in the case of Grimm) as on water". The hero usually has to call in the help of some supernatural creature to assist.
  • In The Road to Oz, the fifth book of the Oz series, Dorothy, Toto, Button-Bright, Polychrome, and the Shaggy Man travel across the Deadly Desert to Oz in a "sand boat", which is described as "a sleigh with sails and a rudder".
  • Martian sand in Larry Niven's Known Space is so finely ground that it behaves like a liquid.
  • Subverted in 'Demon', the third book of John Varley's Gaea Trilogy. Gaea created a replica of the sandworms from intercepted earth fiction, except that the replica barely moves at all; it just sort of sits there on top of the desert. The characters comment on the physical improbability of something that size moving through sand.
    • But Varley has it both ways, since Gaea also creates a race of monsters made of living glass that swim through the sand of the Tethys desert.
  • The Discworld has the Great Nef, which is not so much a desert as an ocean of dehydrated water. This is explicitly described to be a fourth state of water, only attainable in a high thaumic field. The desert nomads who live there sail on ships that wouldn't look out of place in the Circle Sea.
  • According to Mandeville's Travels (14th century), there is a "Sea of Sand" in India which consists of sand that flows like water, and which has fish that are "different than other fishes" but still edible. There is also a river of rocks flowing into the Sea the Sand.
  • Hugh Howey's serial novel Sand has divers that use vibration suits to swim through sand and scavenge treasure.
  • The Railsea is an ocean of sand that you can only cross by train. Dangerous monsters will attack the second you step off the rail.

    Jokes 

    Live Action TV 
  • The Outer Limits TOS episode "The Invisible Enemy" had several giant monsters swimming through the sands of Mars, "living in the sand like a shark in the ocean!" (They weren't Sand Worms, they had heads and crab claws). The sand sea even had a tide that rose and fell.
  • The Hercules and Xena series both featured man-eating sand sharks that could do this.
  • Primeval featured "sand scorpions" that could do this: sometimes there's a visible wake on the surface of the sand, other times there is no trace of their passing, even though they're as big as hippos. They also embody another classic howler in being large carnivores living in a barren desert with no apparent food except visiting humans.

    Music And Sound Effects 
  • Portishead's "Roads" plays

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, far to the south, near the Pole, people actually have sand ships that are used as transport and in warfare.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has several examples:
    • The Greyhawk setting. The Sea of Dust had "dust lakes" which acted like water, including supporting boats and allowing people to swim through it.
      • In one Greyhawk novel, a group sets out to cross the Sea of Dust, using a ship outfitted with huge inflated wheels. This becomes a subversion when the wheels get punctured by cacti and the ship is left immobile, something that wouldn't happen on water.
    • D&D also has a monster called the bulette, which is essentially a land shark.
    • Dungeons and Dragons Abyss also has a river of salt... which will dehydrate you and grate you to a paste if you fall in.
    • The Dark Sun setting has the Sea of Silt. This is a semi-aversion; although it has enough sea-like characteristics to qualify for the trope (pseudo-sailing vessels, silt-monsters), there are also many notable differences. It's described as essentially a gigantic basin full of dry quicksand. In the 4E update of the setting, it was declared that the Sea of Silt is caused by Elemental Chaos leaking through and changing local physics.
    • The Spelljammer D&D setting had merfolk native to... you guessed it, sand.
  • Gamma World had a landshark which swims through soil, justified in that it uses innate telekineisis to burrow at high speeds.
  • Talislanta plays this one fairly straight, with giant sand eels and duneships. Land barges, yet another type of wheeled ship, are a partial subversion, as they're used on flat steppes as well as sand.

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE has "The Sea of Liquid Sand." It's technically a sea of quicksand.

    Video Games 
  • The Wild AR Ms series has a few of these, which isn't surprising considering they all take place on the mostly-desert world of Filgaia.
    • The original had Sand River.
    • Wild ARMs 3 replaced all of the wet oceans with sand oceans. You even get a special boat to sail on these sand oceans later. There was an entire ecosystem living in the sand, mostly fish-like monsters and one Bonus Boss Sand Worm.
    • In Wild ARMs 4, there is a sand inland sea, which, yes, has ships that sail on it. Somewhat subverted as people are able to stand on this "sandsea." On a cutscene at least.
  • The Final Fantasy series is also fond of this trope.
    • In Final Fantasy IX, the sand that flows through and down Cleyra acts very much like water. There are even floodgates for it. There are also sand whirlpools here and in one of the deserts, which will pull you under if you step into them.
    • Final Fantasy XII has the Ogir-Yensa and Nam-Yensa sandseas, both massive oceans of quicksand. As if to emphasize that point; there are oil rigs which is basically how the heroes crossed the sandseas, and the native Urutan-Yensa traverse the place on giant fishes.
    • The Desert of Shifting Sands (or Quicksand Desert) in Final Fantasy V is essentially a convoluted set of rapids, also featuring a sandworm!
    • Figaro Castle in Final Fantasy VI was able to turn into a sand-submarine and move between two deserts.
    • Not to mention in Final Fantasy VIII has the two Fastitocalon enemies, FISH that not only treated sand as water, but could also do the same with AIR!
    • In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the titular character can surf on sand dunes. Oddly, she can do this even when the ground is not sloped enough to facilitate movement.
  • Nier has this in Facade and the desert in general.
  • Metroid Prime 2.
    • The Metroid series in general usually replaces water with acid and/or lava.
  • Golden Sun features an entire dungeon (Venus Lighthouse) devoted to solving puzzles with this trope.
    • And in The Lost Age, you get a spell that lets you swim under sand (technically, you turn yourself into a sentient, mobile pile of sand). Which you use in the last dungeon to swim through glass panels to avoid a flamethrower.
  • Super Mario 64 (The Trope Namer for Shifting Sand Land)
    • Another possibly ridiculous example from Mario Teaches Typing has Mario do the front stroke swimming through quick sand with a somewhat goofy expression.
    • Many subsequent Mario games use the same idea again, for instance the sand level in Mario Kart: Double Dash.
    • One part of the "Slipsand Galaxy" level from Super Mario Galaxy 2 had Mario navigate a large river of quicksand on top of a large bird-shaped raft while at the same time avoiding the cacti and Magikoopas dwelling in the quicksand.
  • On Banjo-Kazooie's sixth level, Gobi's Desert, there are pools of sand that have small waves going across them, almost like boiling water. Obviously, entering these pools without the Wading Boots is hazardous to your health.
  • One sidequest in Chrono Trigger features lots of sand currents and sand whirlpools. The characters can walk on the sand, they just won't stay in one place for very long. You access said area by falling through a sand whirlpool.
  • Secret of Evermore has whirlpools in a sandy area just before the Bugmuck. Which suck you down and then.. spit you back up somewhere else. Weird.
  • One of the early areas in Xenogears involves a massive desert large enough to have ships "sailing" on it, along with gigantic unseen creatures such as "sand whales" and a "desert remora". The Cool Boat you get is one such sandships, which eventually upgrades to a sea vessel and an airship as the plot progresses. Some attention is actually paid to the technology needed to make the sand-sub work, which can make the scientific inaccuracy more or less egregious depending on the individual.
  • Both Breath of Fire IV and Monster Hunter had dragons (or wyverns in the case of Monster Hunter) that could swim through sand. They also had a transparent, worm-like dragon that lived in a sea of mud and a fish-like monster that could survive in lava, respectively.
    • Monster Hunter Tri has a sea of sand, including sailing ships and a port.
    • Any desert of the Monster Hunter franchise also has at least one kind of monster that swims through sand. Before Tri there were Cephalos and Cephadrome, a kind of wyverns that can also walk on said sand; on Tri there are Delex, which are more fish-like, jump over sand just like dolphins, and slither on its surface. And then there's Jhen Mohran.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), bodies of sand and bodies of water interact with the player exactly the same way: like bottomless pits.
    • Dusty Desert in Sonic 2006 is a rather egregious example, as thanks to it's shoddy programming shortcuts, If you come in contact with ANY body of sand It splashes. And if you happen to let the sand come above a character's ankles they'll die instantly as if they fell into water.
    • Another Sonic example, the Sandopolis Zone in Sonic 3 And Knuckles had sand 'waterfalls' and sand rivers that you slide down.
  • The temple in the Haruba Desert in Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia has a lot of sand that acts like water.
    • And of course, Hippopotas, Hippowdon and the Sandile family all play with this trope by being ground-type hippos and crocodiles respectively.
  • Nexus War has rivers of dust in the plane of Nifleheim. For gameplay purposes they're treated exactly like water. If you can't swim, you'll drown. If you can breathe water through mystical skill or magical potion, you can breathe dust too.
  • Touhou Project's Moriya Suwako, a mountain goddess, can swim through the earth like water.
  • Played around with in Journey. Sometimes, the sand acts like sand. At other times, you can surf through it like water, and watch it glisten and ripple like water as well.
    • The use of marine animal styles for the "cloth creatures" makes the parallel even stronger.
  • The Legend of Zelda series likes this trope. Numerous games feature monsters that swim through sand, including but not limited to Leevers, Lanmolas, Moldorms, and (in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks) Malgyorgs.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a giant river of sand flowing through the desert.
    • Oracle of Seasons has a small desert with sand whirlpools and a half-buried pirate ship. One of the major quests is to get the ship unburied and back out to sea.
    • Oracle of Ages has a mole miniboss who does this, attacking from underneath with its drill-nose. Fortunately, it's completely helpless aboveground when dug up.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess fourth dungeon, Arbiter's Grounds, not only features sinking sand but has sand whirlpools. A sand whirlpool also features in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on a single screen of the Yarna Desert.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword pulls it off, and it's even justified because you're using crystals that revert their surroundings to their past state. Most of the desert was once an ocean.
      • Played straight, however, with a scorpion the size of a bus that can instantly burrow itself in the sand and move around, which you unbury with a reverse vacuum cleaner.
  • In Sands of Destruction, the entire world is basically composed of islands in the middle of an ocean of sand. There are some lakes and sea, but players would be given the impression of more sand.
  • Several enemies in the Ratchet & Clank series fit here. But the most appropriate is the 'sand shark' from the first game. Walking, chomping shark heads that pop up and try to eat you when you get close enough.
  • In Klonoa 2, you can surf on sand with the surfboard after the Sea of Tears has been dried up. The failed physics is corrected somewhat when you account for a floating board.
  • In Darksiders, a giant desert exists populated by absolutely enormous sand worms swimming easily through it. Strangely, War sinks hip deep into this stuff and his movement slows to a crawl but can run atop it when mounted on his giant horse Ruin...
  • The sand sharks in Bubsy serve as Nightmare Fuel.
  • In Shadow of the Colossus, there are two colossi that swim through sand. One essentially behaves like a large sand dwelling snake, whereas the other one actually flies, but when first encountered, is living in the sand, and breeches like a whale.
  • Apparently, most Zerg units from StarCraft can swim through any material (including steel), not just sand, though they cannot actually move around when burried. This is likely for balance. In Star Craft 2, this is handwaved by the Zerg being able to erode any material with millions of micro muscles, effectively making them semi-liquid. Don't think too hard about it.
  • Fishing activity in Rune Factory 3 is extended into a desert. Fishes are seen swimming under the sand where you can see their shadow.
  • Sand Zone from Cave Story features aptly named sand crocs which prey on any hapless victim that falls into otherwise solid sand in which they can seemingly swim.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender , the nomadic Earthbender offshoot Sandbenders specialize in manipulating the sand that surrounds them (other Earthbenders can do little more with sand than make a few puffs of dust unless they practice diligently) so the water like behaviour gets justified since its derived from their mystical bending powers; consequentially, their movements are more akin to those of a waterbender. They apply this power to use small sand skiffs to sail around in.
  • In "The Sand Whale Strikes" episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, the titular character is forced by Eustace's mother to hunt a sand whale, who is trying to get his accordion back from Eustace's mother. And Courage is forced to row a boat in the sand.
  • Aladdin: The Series is a major user, including both Dune-like sand worms and a giant shark that could swim through the sand. The landshark was also hunted by a Captain Ahab Captain Ersatz who piloted a flying masted ship until it was killed by a tribe of Koala-like tribesmen.
  • Thundercats 2011 has the Sand Sea in "Ramlak Rising," with waves, tides, storms, flying pirate ships and sea monsters great and small. Oases are reimagined as islands of water. Landlubbers are screwed either way.

    Real Life 
  • Oddly enough, there is an animal known as a "sandfish" which swims through sand - although it's a skink and not an actual fish of course. Marsupial moles and desert-dwelling golden moles also sort of "swim" through sand as well. Presumably this trick won't work well with larger animals (less thrust relative to surface area), so don't expect any real life sand worms.
    • Genuine "sand-swimming" vertebrates still have to remain very close to the surface to avoid suffocation. Most only "swim" far enough to cover themselves with a thin dusting of sand, thus acquiring camouflage and shielding themselves from the desert sun.
  • Interestingly, the sand of the Sahara Desert actually does behave much like water, due to its extreme age and the resultant smoothness of the grains. Of course, that's only relative to other deserts and on a large scale (both area and time span). You still couldn't swim in Sahara sand, no matter how comparatively smooth the grains are.
  • If you get sand really loosely packed, it becomes dry quicksand. If you drop something in it, it will fall through the surface of the sand, and make a splash.
  • Some athletes will 'surf' on sand. However the boards they use are snowboards that are HEAVILY waxed. Since rough snow is almost as abrasive as sand this is realistic.
  • Sand beaches, as well as dry lakebeds and salt flats, are favored terrain for the use of land yachts, as a fairly flat surface is needed for these lightweight wheeled vessels to remain stable.
  • In the era before CGI and color film, special effects done using scale-models often used sand as an alternative to water due to the absurdly large relative size of water droplets to the models of ships, planes, etc.
  • In some areas in Pakistan, they cook chickpeas in a deep pan full of sand, using the sand to conduct and diffuse the heat; basically, boiling in sand.
  • Given enough sheer stress force, the ground can undergo what is known as liquefaction, where the ground behaves like a liquid.


Rump RoastOlder Than PrintSassy Black Woman
Sand Bridge At Low TideInstant Index Just Add WaterSee Water
Saharan ShipwreckDesert TropesSand Worm
Reactionless DriveArtistic License - PhysicsSelective Magnetism
San Dimas TimeSpeculative Fiction TropesSand Worm
Western Animation TVImageSource/Western AnimationCow and Chicken
Sand Bridge At Low TideThe Ground Beneath Our FeetSand Worm

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