Ongoing drought-induced uplift in the western United States

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Science  26 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6204, pp. 1587-1590
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260279

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Crustal rebound from water drawdown

The ongoing drought across the western United States has taken a toll on underground water storage. Borsa et al. use almost imperceptible crustal uplift to estimate the regional water depletion from the drought. Inverting GPS data maps the impact of the drought on local aquifers over the past few years. The deficit so far in the western United States adds up to 240 gigatons of water, the equivalent of a 10-cm layer across the region. Certain areas of California have fared much worse, with local depletions up to five times the regional average.

Science, this issue p. 1587


The western United States has been experiencing severe drought since 2013. The solid earth response to the accompanying loss of surface and near-surface water mass should be a broad region of uplift. We use seasonally adjusted time series from continuously operating global positioning system stations to measure this uplift, which we invert to estimate mass loss. The median uplift is 5 millimeters (mm), with values up to 15 mm in California’s mountains. The associated pattern of mass loss, ranging up to 50 centimeters (cm) of water equivalent, is consistent with observed decreases in precipitation and streamflow. We estimate the total deficit to be ~240 gigatons, equivalent to a 10-cm layer of water over the entire region, or the annual mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

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