Mexico earthquake triggers ‘desert tsunami’ in Death Valley cave 1,500 miles away in Nevada

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

An earthquake that hit Mexico earlier this week caused 4-foot waves to crash into a cave system in Nevada’s Death Valley.

The 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit the western Mexican states of Colima and Michoacán on Monday (September 19). The Devil’s Hole cave system in Death Valley National Park, which is located in eastern California and spans parts of Nevada, is about 1,500 miles to the north.

The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was recorded in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, when a temperature of 56.7 degrees Celsius (134 Fahrenheit) was reached, according to Guinness World Records.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that the area receives only 2.2 inches of rainfall per year on average.

Within this particularly dry area, Devil’s Hole is a “geothermal cave system” that retains water, according to the National Park Service (NPS).

The cave system is “the only natural habitat for the highly endangered Devils Hole goldfish”, the NPS states on their website. There are only between 100 and 180 in the wild.

The cave system is over 131 meters deep, with calves present in the upper 24.3 meters.

The water in caves is generally calm, carbonate-rich and oxygen-poor. The average temperature is 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 Celsius).

The chicks feed on algae that grow in the waters.

Earlier this week, 22 minutes after the earthquake hit Mexico, waves measuring 1.2 meters shook the cave system.

“On September 19, 2022, a massive earthquake that shook the Pacific coast of Mexico sent waves into Devil’s Hole — literally,” Death Valley National Park wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “The 7.6 magnitude event occurred near the Colima-Michoacan border at 11:05 am local time (PDT; 1:05 pm epicenter). The NPS team was on-site conducting research and witnessed the effects first-hand. Within five minutes, the normally still water in the pool began to move slowly and soon formed into waves several meters high.”

“The highly endangered Devils Hole goldfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) fortunately evolved with these types of periodic natural disturbances, and they were fine and swimming (thankfully?) afterwards,” park staff added in the post. “In keeping with previous observations, the team expects to see an increase in spawning activity in the coming days, resulting in even more recruits in the population.”

An increase in population also occurred after other earthquakes that led to waves in Devil’s Hole, newsweek noticed. The 2012 earthquake in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, the 2018 Gulf of Alaska earthquake and the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes led to waters knocking algae off rocks, affecting food supplies.

“It’s crazy that distant earthquakes affect the Devil’s Hole,” Kevin Wilson, an aquatic ecologist at Death Valley National Park, said in a January 2018 statement after the earthquake in Alaska. “We’ve seen it a few times before, but it still surprises me.”

According to the NPS, “the phenomenon is technically known as seismic seiche. These are standing waves in an enclosed body of water (such as a lake or a swimming pool) caused by the seismic waves of an earthquake.”

“This sounds a lot like a tsunami, but tsunamis are caused by an earthquake that moves the ocean floor up or down. Tsunamis can generate much larger waves,” Wilson added at the time.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at

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