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Researchers piece together lake history

SHANNON DARLING, Sun News Service

Giant tidal waves in Tahoe?

Look out, lakefront homeowners: in less than two months scientists will have information that may support a hypothesis that earthquakes in Tahoe could have caused giant tsunamis more than 10,000 years ago.

“It seems that such an event probably occurred,” Rich Schweickert, a researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno.

A collaborative effort researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the Tahoe Research Group will hopefully piece together 10,000 years of Lake Tahoe’s history.

Schweickert and researcher Bob Karlin reached a hypothesis about the tsunamis after noticing unexplained erosion features on the West Shore.

“The probability of such an event is very low, but if possibly occurred,” said Schweickert.

To test the hypothesis, the research team from UNR contacted Scripps to work with them and use their seismic profile of the lake.

“We tried to take core samples on both sides of the larger faults,” said Schweickert.

Together with the Tahoe Research Group the three groups gathered core samples at some of the deepest parts of Lake Tahoe.

At the bottom, locked in over 10 feet of dirt, mud and sand, rests 10,000 years of Lake Tahoe’s history ready to be read by scientists.

The core samples were taken from the bottom of Lake Tahoe several weeks ago and are currently being analyzed.

“We can make use of these cores for a variety of things,” said Schweickert.

The Tahoe Research Group hopes to use the cores to reconstruct the environmental history of the lake.

“We’re looking at multiple data sets from the same sampling,” said Dr. Alan Heyvaert from the Tahoe Research Group.

With multiple sets of data, Heyvaert hopes to reconstruct the history of Tahoe.

“The basin was formed by faulting,” said Heyvaert. “The Sierra Nevada is very fault rich.”

Soon, perhaps in two months, the history of Lake Tahoe will be unlocked, said Heyvaert.

Scientists are currently analyzing the different layers of mud and sand deposited in the core samples over the 10,000 years. Schweickert said it is possible to tell if there has been an earthquake by disturbed layers of mud usually with a thin layer of sand.

The scientists will then be able to tell how much sand was displaced during an earthquake and then they can tell how much water was displaced as a result of the earthquake.

“We can make a rough calculation of how much water was displaced,” said Schweickert.


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