Abstract

A gigantic ∼12 km3 landslide detached from the west wall of Lake Tahoe (California-Nevada, USA), and slid 15 km east across the lake. The splash, or tsunami, from this landslide eroded Tioga-age moraines dated as 21 ka. Lake-bottom short piston cores recovered sediment as old as 12 ka that did not reach landslide deposits, thereby constraining the landslide age as 21–12 ka.

Movement of the landslide splashed copious water onto the countryside and lowered the lake level ∼10 m. The sheets of water that washed back into the lake dumped their sediment load at the lowered shoreline, producing deltas that merged into delta terraces. During rapid growth, these unstable delta terraces collapsed, disaggregated, and fed turbidity currents that generated 15 subaqueous sediment wave channel systems that ring the lake and descend to the lake floor at 500 m depth. Sheets of water commonly more than 2 km wide at the shoreline fed these systems. Channels of the systems contain sediment waves (giant ripple marks) with maximum wavelengths of 400 m. The lower depositional aprons of the system are surfaced by sediment waves with maximum wavelengths of 300 m.

A remarkably similar, though smaller, contemporary sediment wave channel system operates at the mouth of the Squamish River in British Columbia. The system is generated by turbidity currents that are fed by repeated growth and collapse of the active river delta. The Tahoe splash-induced backwash was briefly equivalent to more than 15 Squamish Rivers in full flood and would have decimated life in low-lying areas of the Tahoe region.

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