Exploring abrupt climate change induced by comets and asteroids during human history

Lake Tahoe Comet Tsunami

Sediments date to Younger Dryas comet impact quake

One of the best things about the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis is finding catastrophic features that may date to the event, but have not yet been directly connected with it. Today I submit one of the finest examples: The Great Lake Tahoe Comet Tsunami.

Its is a well-published and uncontroversial fact that in the prehistoric peopled past a gargantuan rock shelf on the western shore of Lake Tahoe collapsed.

FIVE SQUARE MILES of rock and sediment slipped into the gin-clear water of the deep alpine lake and vomited a 300′ high tsunami wave that raced across the lake in five minutes, crashed on the eastern shore, ran up a 1000 feet high, and retreated leaving scars on the landscape visible today.

The oscillating “seiche waves,” rocked back and forth and in and out of the lake for a half hour of lacustrine hell.

Lake Tahoe was a bad place on a bad day.

McKinney Bay landslide creates tsunami in Lake Tahoe from Tahoe Daily Tribune on Vimeo.

When was the bad day? As determined in the most recent detailed study by James Moore et al. (2014) below, the youngest estimate for the catastrophic event is our favorite geological and cultural milestone of 12,000 years ago, and the outer limit is 21,000 years ago.

This range is supported by two sets of data. The older limit is defined by dating a glacial moraine no older than 21,000 years, which was breached by the debris flow. (If it happened today, and was studied thousands of years in the future, it would still be constrained by this early date).

But the younger date — our ever present buddy, 12,000 years before present — both constrains the youngest possible timing of the event, and indicates to a careful observer it actually occurred at that time itself: Moore et al. determined that none of the accumulated lake sediments draped over the catastrophic debris are older than 12,000 years.

If sediments above the catastrophic layer are no older than 12,000 years, and the outside date based on the moraine breech is 21,000 years — what the hell happened to the 9,000 years of intervening sediment accumulation?

The answer is the sediment did not accumulate because the young-side bracket itself is the actual timing of the event. The same conservative dating dynamic is underway with Hiawatha Crater. Both events actually happened at their youngest possible date, because both events left nothing older above them.

Just in case it is not immediately apparent, the collapse, and subsequent wake in the lake, were triggered indirectly by the YD impact(s) and resulted from the earthquake(s) that clearly rocked the planet in the immediate aftermath of impact(s) elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

Note that in the two million year history of Lake Tahoe, no other “regular” earthquakes in the seismically active area had managed to dislodge the rock shelf, and no predecessor debris field appears on the lake bottom from a similar event. What happened that day was a uniquely powerful shock in the entire Quaternary.

And a very bad day on the lake.


7 Responses

  1. …mp other “regular” earthquakes in the seismically….
    should be no other, I would think.

  2. Is that a crater I see just west of Tahoe City at Mildred Ridge, on the West side of the slip zone? Would the sediments in the lake not take time to settle into a well defined base layer in many places and should be rich in impact proxies?

  3. George,

    The Native people of Central California recorded the events in their mythology.


    “When the great chief knew that she was gone, a terrible loneliness and sorrow came to him, and he wandered away through the forests in search of her, forgetting his people in Ah-wah-nee. So strong was his love for her, and so deep his sorrow, that he forgot to call upon The Great Spirit to send the timely rains. So great was his neglect that the streams grew smaller and smaller and finally became dry. The crops failed. The hunters came back from the forests without meat, and the fishermen returned from the streams empty-handed. The leaves and the green acorns fell from the trees, and the bright flowers and green grasses became dry and brown.

    The Great Spirit became very angry with Tu-tok-a-nu-la. The earth trembled with his wrath so that the rocks fell down into the Valley from the surrounding cliffs. The sky and the mountains belched forth smoke and flame. The great dome that had been the home of Tis-sa-ack, was rent asunder and half of it fell into the Valley. The melting snows from the high mountains came down into the Valley in a flood and drowned hundreds of the people. But the wrath of The Great Spirit was quickly spent, and the heavens again grew quiet. The floods receded, the sun shone, and once more peace and calm reigned over Ah-wah-nee.”


  4. Remember, we know from the gamma rays and 14C and meltwater pulses that there were two impact events about 2,000 years apart, with the 10,800 BCE event the second of them, and the one that produced the dust load.

  5. That’s a shocking correspondance of seismic activity with cosmic serpent airbursts and/or impacts! I’d like to know about the Bonneville area seismic activity around the YD as well.

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