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Mexico earthquake creates ‘desert tsunami’ 1,500 miles away in Death Valley National Park

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A 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico on Monday sent shock waves triggering a “desert tsunami” in a cave system 1,500 miles away in Death Valley National Park in Nevada, officials said.

The earthquake struck off the central Pacific coast of Mexico, killing at least one person. About 22 minutes after the quake, tremors triggered 4-foot-high waves in Devils Hole, the National Park Service (NPS) said.

Devils Hole is a partially water-filled limestone cave in Nye County, Nevada, and is hundreds of feet deep, according to the NPS.

It is home to the endangered Devils Hole pupfish, which relies on algae growing on a sunlit shallow shelf as a food source.

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Officials described the “amazing quirk of geology” as a “desert tsunami” but said it is properly known as a “seiche”. A seiche is a standing wave in a closed body of water.

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake in western Mexico caused waves to rush into Devils Hole in Death Valley National Park in Nevada, officials said.
(National Park Service/Ambre Chaudoin)

The waves churned up rocks and sediment on the shallow shelf and removed most of the algae growth, limiting the amount of food available for the pupfish in the short term, the NPS said.

“The pup has survived a number of these events in recent years,” said Kevin Wilson, an aquatic ecologist with the National Park Service. “We didn’t find any dead fish after the waves stopped.”

Officials said the Devils Hole pupfish population has been growing steadily, with 175 fish living in Devils Hole in March, compared to just 35 nine years ago.

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On Thursday morning, a second magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit western Mexico, killing at least two people. It was not immediately clear if Devils Hole experienced the same phenomenon.

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