Lake Tahoe Unwrapped

Steve's picture

Most folks visit Lake Tahoe to do some skiing in the winter, to partake of fresh mountain air in the summer, or to see a show and drop a few bucks at the casinos on the Nevada side in any season.

Likely, most Tahoe visitors aren’t aware that the Lake itself hides a big secret. To discover what that is however, we need to drain the thing --  but don’t worry, we’ll fill it back up before we leave.

At the bottom of now unwrapped Lake Tahoe, you can’t miss the massive blocks scattered across the floor. Where did these come from?, UFOs? No, the only reasonable explanation is that they are remnants of a huge landslide. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to identify a suspect, seeing that the flat shelf on the Lake’s west shore is missing an equally huge bite. Geologists tell us that about 40,000 years ago, five cubic km (one cubic mile) of rock that once filled the bite broke away, tumbled down, and then scooted across the Lake bottom in span of a few minutes.

When that happened, five cubic km of Tahoe’s water suddenly found itself displaced. The typically placid Lake hosted a mega-tsunami. Waves 50 meters high embraced all its coasts inside of eight minutes. Floods ran out several miles over the fairly flat land to the South. Off steeper shores, waves multiply reflected kept the whole basin agitated for about an hour.

Safe bet, 40,000 years ago there weren’t many visitors hanging about Lake Tahoe, but it sure would be scary if similar events were scheduled today. On the other hand, if you just frittered half of your life savings at one of those Nevada casinos, facing a mega-tsunami might not be as scary as facing your wife.

Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz

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