Landscapes around you may appear static, but research using lasers suggests even the most steady terrain is creeping along.

The results were surprising, even to members of the team. Though I thought it might happen, its still creepy, said Douglas Jerolmack, a geophysicist and Mr. Deshpandes adviser.
Yet a lab is not completely disconnected from its environment and the researchers couldnt be certain that an overhead airplane hadnt somehow disturbed their experiment. To confirm their hunches, they also conducted simulations in a computer with virtual sand grains subject to nothing but the forces of gravity and friction and saw the same infinitesimal movements as with the real-world pile.
To further study what influences creep, the team introduced small changes to their sand mounds. For instance, they heated the heaps, which thermally expanded the grains and increased the rate at which they slid around.
Nathalie Vriend, a geophysicist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the new study, had been skeptical that creep might happen in the absence of external disturbances. But after conducting some of her own experiments and hearing Mr. Deshpande present his results at a conference in March, she has come around to the idea.
I remember listening and saying, This is really cool work, she said. As an experimentalist, I appreciate when people find new techniques to measure something that was previously hidden.
While agreeing that the experimental results are interesting and novel, Anne Voigtländer, a geomorphologist at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, wasnt entirely sure they could yet be executed outside the controlled lab environment. I dont think its at a stage where you can apply it, she said.
Figuring out just how to confirm the teams results in the real world, is an open question, Mr. Deshpande said.