Earthquake Wave Felt at Devils Hole in Death Valley NP

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Date: April 6, 2012

On March 20, 2012, Devils Hole, part of Death Valley National Park located in the Amargosa Valley, NV, felt the shock waves of the earthquake that took place in Oaxaca, Mexico. National Park Service employees observed and filmed the impact on the water found in the subterranean cave, which supports the endangered Devils Hole pupfish. Although the quake hit at 11:02 PDT, the reaction was delayed about 10 minutes until the impact was recorded at the site. The 7.4 magnitude quake caused the water to rise and fall about an inch initially, then became more dramatic.

Park staff observed algae slough off the walls of the chamber, followed by water bubbles, swooshing sounds and swirling water. The water became turbid and the smell of sulfur filled the air. The water level ranged more than 5 ft. in total (~2.5 in either direction) throughout the event. The rising water level increased causing waves to rush along top of a shallow shelf and crash against the adjacent wall.This occurred multiple times with breaks of calmer surges.In all, the wave action continued for about 10 minutes. Once the water level subsided, pupfish started to return to the shelf.The first fish was a larger male (~27mm) who began investigating his new habitat.Soon after, more fish began to appear and spawning behavior was observed.

Only a small number of people have witnessed earthquake waves at Devils Hole.Kevin Wilson, Death Valley Aquatic Biologist, stated "There are more people that have walked on the moon than have witnessed an earthquake event at Devil's Hole". Another instance occurred in September 1999 when an earthquake of similar magnitude, also from Oaxaca, was witnessed by park personnel. Wilson doubts that any long-term damage was caused to the pupfish. For more information call Kevin Wilson at 775-537-0787.

To see a video of the Devils Hole "tsunami" go to


Last updated: September 22, 2022

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