This paper summarizes the results of an experimental study on the onset of scour below and self-burial of pipelines in currents/waves. Pressure was measured on the surface of a slightly buried pipe at two points, one at the upstream side and the other at the downstream side of the pipe, both in the sand bed. The latter enabled the pressure gradient (which drives a seepage flow underneath the pipe) to be calculated. The results indicated that the excessive seepage flow and the resulting piping are the major factor to cause the onset of scour below the pipeline. The onset of scour occurred always locally (but not along the length of the pipeline as a two-dimensional process). The critical condition corresponding to the onset of scour was determined both in the case of currents and in the case of waves. Once the scour breaks out, it will propagate along the length of the pipeline, scour holes being interrupted with stretches of soil (span shoulders) supporting the pipeline. As the span shoulder gets shorter and shorter, more and more weight of the pipeline is exerted on the soil. In this process, a critical point is reached where the bearing capacity of the soil is exceeded (general shear failure). At this point, the pipe begins to sink at the span shoulder (self-burial). It was found that the self-burial depth is governed mainly by the Keulegan-Carpenter number. The time scale of the self-burial process, on the other hand, is governed by the Keulegan-Carpenter number and the Shields parameter. Diagrams are given for the self-burial depth and the time scale of the self-burial process. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.