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Observations and modeling of the surface seiches of Lake Tahoe, USA

  • Roberts, Derek C.1, 2
  • Sprague, Heather M.1, 2, 3
  • Forrest, Alexander L.1, 2
  • Sornborger, Andrew T.4
  • Schladow, S. Geoffrey1, 2
  • 1 University of California, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Davis, CA, USA , Davis (United States)
  • 2 UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, Incline Village, NV, USA , Incline Village (United States)
  • 3 Arcadis US, Inc., San Francisco, CA, USA , San Francisco (United States)
  • 4 Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA , Los Alamos (United States)
Published Article
Aquatic Sciences
Springer International Publishing
Publication Date
Apr 16, 2019
DOI: 10.1007/s00027-019-0644-1
Springer Nature


A rich array of spatially complex surface seiche modes exists in lakes. While the amplitude of these oscillations is often small, knowledge of their spatio-temporal characteristics is valuable for understanding when they might be of localized hydrodynamic importance. The expression and impact of these basin-scale barotropic oscillations in Lake Tahoe are evaluated using a finite-element numerical model and a distributed network of ten high-frequency nearshore monitoring stations. Model-predicted nodal distributions and periodicities are confirmed using the presence/absence of spectral power in measured pressure signals, and using coherence/phasing analysis of pressure signals from stations on common and opposing antinodes. Surface seiches in Lake Tahoe have complex nodal distributions despite the relative simplicity of the basin morphometry. Seiche amplitudes are magnified on shallow shelves, where they occasionally exceed 5 cm; elsewhere, amplitudes rarely exceed 1 cm. There is generally little coherence between surface seiching and littoral water quality. However, pressure–temperature coherence at shelf sites suggests potential seiche-driven pumping. Main-basin seiche signals are present in attached marinas, wetlands, and bays, implying reversing flows between the lake and these water bodies. On the shallow sill connecting Emerald Bay to Lake Tahoe, the fundamental main-basin seiche combines with a zeroth-mode harbor seiche to dominate the cross-sill flow signal, and to drive associated temperature fluctuations. Results highlight the importance of a thorough descriptive understanding of the resonant barotropic oscillations in any lake basin in a variety of research and management contexts, even when the magnitude of these oscillations tends to be small.

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