In 1872, a magnitude 7.5-7.7 earthquake vertically offset the Owens Valley fault by more than a meter. An eyewitness reported a large wave on the surface of Owens Lake, presumably initiated by the earthquake. Physical evidence of this event is found in cores and trenches from Owens Lake, including soft-sediment deformation and fault offsets. A graded pebbly sand truncates these features, possibly over most of the lake floor, reflecting the "tsunami" wave. Confirmation of the timing of the event is provided by abnormally high lead concentrations in the sediment immediately above and below these proposed earthquake deposits derived from lead-smelting plants that operated near the eastern lake margin from 1869-1876. The bottom velocity in the deepest part of the lake needed to transport the coarsest grain sizes in the graded pebbly sand provides an estimate of the minimum initial 'tsunami' wave height at 37 cm. This is less than the wave height calculated from long-wave numerical models (about 55 cm) using average fault displacement during the earthquake. Two other graded sand deposits associated with soft-sediment deformation in the Owens Lake record are less than 3000 years old, and are interpreted as evidence of older earthquake and tsunami events. Offsets of the Owens Valley fault elsewhere in the valley indicate that at least two additional large earthquakes occurred during the Holocene, which is consistent with our observations in this lacustrine record.
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Sedimentary record of the 1872 earthquake and "Tsunami" at Owens Lake, southeast California