An earthquake in Mexico resulted in 4ft waves crashing around a cave as far away as Death Valley.
The earthquake, which struck the western Mexican states of Colima and Michoacán on September 19, had a magnitude of 7.6. More than 1,000 miles away, in Death Valley’s Devils Hole, the effects of the earthquake’s tremors could be seen via large waves in the cave’s water.
Death Valley, which holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, lies on the California-Nevada border, about 210 km west of Las Vegas. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Death Valley averages just 2.2 inches of precipitation per year and can reach up to 134 F.
While the park itself is generally dry, Devils Hole is a water-filled geothermal cave system. This oasis is the only natural habitat for the highly endangered Devils Hole pupfish, of which there are only between 100 and 180 present in the wild, according to the National Parks Service. Devils Hole is over 430 feet deep, although pupfish only occupy the top 80 feet.
The water in Devils Hole is generally calm, carbonate-rich and oxygen-poor, and averages around 93 F. Pupfish depend on the algae that grow in the warm, calm waters.
However, this week’s earthquake was so powerful that its shock waves caused 4-foot-high waves to crash into the cave system, 22 minutes after the initial earthquake in Mexico.
“The 7.6 magnitude event struck near the Colima-Michoacan border at 11:05 a.m. local time (PDT; 1:05 p.m. epicenter). NPS [National Park Service] staff were on hand to conduct research and witnessed the effects first hand. Within five minutes, the normally calm water in the pool began to move slowly and quickly formed waves several feet high,” Death Valley National Park wrote in a Facebook post.
Although the fish are endangered and used to their tranquil pool, NPS believes the waves could quickly recur, leading to more fish being born in Devils Hole.
“The highly endangered Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) fortunately evolved with these types of periodic natural disturbances, and they were fine and swimming (thankfully?) thereafter,” Death Valley National Park said. . “Consistent with previous observations, staff expect to see an increase in spawning activity over the next few days, which will hopefully result in even more recruits to the population.”
A similar population boom occurred after other earthquakes resulting in standing waves similar to Devils Hole: the 2012 Guerrero-Oaxaca earthquake, the 2018 Gulf of Alaska earthquake, and the Ridgecrest land in 2019 all caused waves that clean algae from rocks (including eggs and larvae), affecting food availability for fish.
Death Valley has recently experienced other bizarre water-related weather phenomena, with torrential rain following the California heat wave in early September resulting in flash floods and waterfalls so destructive they have caused significant damage to the road structure.