Aquatic Sciences

, 81:46 | Cite as

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

  • Derek C. RobertsEmail author
  • Heather M. Sprague
  • Alexander L. Forrest
  • Andrew T. Sornborger
  • S. Geoffrey Schladow
Research Article


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.


Surface seiche Littoral Lake Tahoe Spectral analysis Physical limnology 



This material is based upon work supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF Grant #1650042). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Support for nearshore water quality stations was generously provided by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and through the philanthropic support of several Lake Tahoe community homeowners. Brant Allen, Katie Senft, Brandon Berry, and Raph Townsend, of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, provided invaluable field support. All associated with this publication are available through a UC Davis Library DASH repository at


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research CenterIncline VillageUSA
  3. 3.Arcadis US, Inc.San FranciscoUSA
  4. 4.Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos AlamosUSA

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