In what Death Valley naturalists called a “surprising quirk of geology,” Monday’s magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Mexico triggered 4-foot waves in Devils Hole, a water-filled cavern in the national park.
The “desert tsunami” — technically, a seiche — was recorded in the video above.
The earthquake, at 11:05 a.m. Pacific time, was centered on the coast of the Mexican state of Colima. Twenty-two minutes later, water started sloshing 1,500 miles away in Devils Hole, said a press release from the park. The waves reached 4 feet high around 11:35 am.
Devils Hole is in a section of the park in Nye County, Nevada. The limestone cave, hundreds of feet deep, is known for its population of the endangered Devils Hole pupfish, which depends on algae that grows on a shallow, sunlit shelf.
The turbulence Monday stirred the sediment on that shelf and detached some of the algae, which in the short term will reduce food for the fish. But Kevin Wilson, a park service aquatic ecologist, said no dead fish were found and added, “The pupfish have survived several of these events in recent years.”
Nine years ago, there were only 35 fish in Devils Hole. In March, the population was up to 175, and another count is planned for this weekend, the park’s release said.
In 2016, three Nevada men climbed the fence that protects the ecologically fragile cave and went on a drunken binge, leaving behind beer cans, shotgun shells, vomit and — in the water — a pair of underwear. The man who climbed onto the shelf, allegedly crushing young pupfish and eggs, was sentenced to a year in prison; his companions received probation.