Three processes of water escape characterize the consolidation of silt-, sand-and gravel-sized sediments. Seepage involves the slow upward movement of pore fluids within existing voids or rapid flow within compact and confined sediments. Liquefaction is marked by the sudden breakdown of a metastable, loosely packed grain framework, the grains becoming temporarily suspended in the pore fluid and settling rapidly through the fluid until a grain-supported structure is re-established. Fluidization occurs when the drag exerted by moving pore fluids exceeds the effective weight of the grains; the particles are lifted, the grain framework destroyed, and the sediment strength reduced to nearly zero. Diagenetic sedimentary structures formed in direct response to processes of fluid escape are here termed water escape structures.

Four main types of water escape structures form during the fluidization and liquefaction of sands: (1) soft-sediment mixing bodies, (2) soft-sedimsnt intrusions, (3) consolidation laminations, and (4) soft-sediment folds. These structures represent both the direct rearrangement of sediment grains by escaping fluids and the deformation of hydroplastic, liquefied, or fluidized sediment in response to external stresses.

Fundamental controls on sediment consolidation are exerted by the bulk sediment properties of grain size, packing, permeability, and strength, which together determine whether consolidation will occur and, if so the course it follows, and by external disturbances which act to trigger liquefaction and fluidization. The liquefaction and fluidization of natural sands usually accompanies the collapse of loosely packed cross-bedded deposits. This collapse is commonly initiated by water forced into the units as underlying beds, especially muds and clays, consolidate. The consolidation of subjacent units is often triggered by the rapid deposition of the sand itself, although earthquakes or other disturbances are probably influential in some instances.

Water escape structures most commonly form in fine- to medium-grained sands deposited at high instantaneous and mean sedimentation rates; they are particularly abundant in cross-laminated deposits but rare in units deposited under upper flow regime plane bed conditions. Their development is favoured by upward decreasing permeability within sedimentation units such as normally graded turbidites. They are especially common in sequences made up of alternating fine-(clay and mud) and coarse-grained (sand) units such as deep-sea flysch prodelta, and, to a lesser extent, fluvial point bar, levee, and proximal overbank deposits.