A significant earthquake struck Mexico last week, causing at least two fatalities. There were worries that the death toll could be far higher given the earthquake’s magnitude of 7.6. The earthquake did not generate a tsunami in the water because it was on land. However, it caused a “desert tsunami” at Death Valley’s Devil’s Hole pool, which was located 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away from the epicenter of the earthquake.
The Devil’s Hole is noteworthy in a number of ways. Finding any water there is remarkable given that it is located in what may be the hottest region on Earth. However, the little pool not only survives years without rain and groundwater competition, but it also sustains the Devil’s Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis).
Since the local environment dried out 10,000 years ago, the fish, who have the most constrained range of any vertebrate, has been living alone in water half the length of an Olympic pool and a single lane wide.
The pool’s length of 22 meters (72 feet) makes it an unlikely location for large waves to occur. However, due to its magnitude and substantial depth, seiches, a form of the standing wave, can thrive there. Waves bounce off walls in time to interfere with one another in a useful way because of the pace and length of the pool, which causes the wave height to increase. Similar to how sound waves produce a resonance frequency in an appropriate length wind instrument.
Kevin Wilson, an aquatic scientist with the National Park Service, said in a statement that “the pupfish have survived numerous of these episodes in recent years.” After the waves ceased, we didn’t discover any dead fish.
In the video below, one of the people watching the seiche remarks that she had never seen waves this large in a pool. However, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that occurred in 2019 along the California–Nevada border resulted in waves that were 3-5 meters high. Although the pupfish’s immediate experience may have been frightening, the long-term effects could be even more detrimental.
Because of the wave motion and churned silt, much of the algae that the pupfish depend on for food that grows on a shallow ledge of the pool was destroyed. Fish populations have increased from 35 nine years ago to 175 according to the most recent census, thus any decrease in the food source could have negative effects. It may be why unseasonal spawning events frequently occur after seizures; at the very least, the shaking should have momentarily addressed the low oxygen levels in the water.
The fact that the hole was shaken by a quake almost a thousand miles away is astounding enough, but according to the Parks Service website, seiches have also been linked to earthquakes in Chile, Japan, and Indonesia in the past.
Storms on lakes or bays can generate seiches, which have recently gained attention as a possible explanation for what happened in what was once America’s inland sea on the day the dinosaurs died.