A History of Your Muck

A History of Your Muck (Or, Making Muck from Mighty Mountains)

Muck is yucky. You sink to your ankles, knees, thighs, sometimes further. It’s annoying and sometimes it’s dangerous. If you’ve ever been stuck in muck, you know what I mean.

So what is this nasty stuff and why is it in your lake? Let’s start from the very beginning.

A Brief History of Muck

A long, long time ago, three billion years, (give or take a billion) there were vast mountain ranges pushing up all over the planet, portions of the Earth’s crust that were thrust thousands of feet into the sky. Meanwhile, countless volcanos spewed out molten lava, which became the base for the continent you now call home.

(Before we continue… If you’re someone who believes the Earth is only about 8,000 years old, humor me please. Pretend that science is like a real thing for a little while. Thanks).

Once mountains formed, they didn’t have much to do, (no ski resorts yet, or oxygen for that matter) so they started “weathering.” Little tiny pieces wore off over time. If you recall from your high school geology class, igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock, all break down, eventually forming soil particles.

Wind, rain, freezing, thawing, friction, cracking and other physical, chemical and biological effects break down rock over millions of years into stuff we call clay, silt, sand, and gravel. Soil particles are simply small pieces of rocks, that used to be mountains.

Soils, like sand for instance, can be made up of different minerals. Ever notice the sand on Lake Michigan looks different than the sand on South Beach, which looks different than the sand at Punta Cana? It’s all sand, just made up of combinations of different kinds of teeny tiny rocks.

Terms for these tiny rocks actually refer to their size, not what they’re made of. Silt and clay particles are the smallest, sand is next and gravel is the largest. Frankly, I don’t know why soil geologists classify gravel as soil, but they do.

So, these particles consist of just five elements: (Quoting a Wikipedia entry, from a total geo-geek)*

“The minerals of soils are predominantly formed by atoms of oxygen, silicon, hydrogen, and aluminum… These elements along with calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and carbon constitute over 99 per cent of the solid mass of soils.”

Over eons of time, wind, water and glaciers, move these soil particles around. If they end up in your yard, you plant some grass, mow it, get out the bocci ball set and you’re good to go. But if the particles keep moving, (a process called “transport”) they eventually find their way to water.

Because sand and gravel are heavier, they sink close to shore. But silt and clay, being lighter, travel out deeper before they settle. This is why the lake bottom feels firmer close to shore, but the further out, the softer the soil gets. Once we decide the lake bottom is too soft, we proclaim it…MUCK!

Remember, every second of every day, soil particles blow and flow into your lake. These particles mix with organic materials, like decaying plants and fish poop, for example, making a nice place for weeds to grow.

Back in your yard, there are reasons you soil hangs tough for the bocci ball** tournament. “Friction” and “Interlocking” as the names imply, mean the soil particles stick to, or lock into one another. If they can’t slide easily, or they lock up because of their rough, microscopic, sides, they can bear more weight. The more they hang together, the more strength they have, which means your soil has more “bearing load capacity.”

Out in your beachfront, sunk up to your knees, your lake bottom soil doesn’t have much bearing load capacity. Effectively, it has “zero bearing load.” You call it, “Yucky muck” or something much worse…

But your “yucky muck” isn’t much different than the soil in your yard, with one big exception: it’s continuously submerged in water. Guess what that does to the “friction” and “interlocking” properties that hold your yard up? Yup, that’s right. It’s like spraying WD-40 on a sticky door hinge. The soil particles slip and slide off one another, the soil’s bearing load drops to nothing and you’re stuck in the muck.


Before we move on to how to effectively deal with your muck problem, take time to give your muck its due. All those countless particles laying on your lake bottom right now, were once parts of giant, majestic mountain ranges that dwarfed the Rockies in height and every other measure. So be proud of your muck, it has a very long and nobel history.

Next…I’ll explain (see How a BoatLift-Mat Works) how we can use the innate properties of muck, to make a super solid lake bottom.

*(Dear geo-geeks, I know my explanation isn’t nearly as detailed as yours would be. But I’m trying to explain this in a way that non-geo-geek, normal people will find mildly interesting.  If you can do better, email me you’re version. I’ll be glad to post it on the website).

** Bocci Ball was originally meant to be played on sand, but has evolved into a lawn sport, usually involving a cold drink in one hand and a bocci ball in the other.