The Drought Is So Bad California's Mountains Grew Half An Inch
Low water levels at the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino (Photo byJustin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Scientists at UC San Diego have found an unorthodox way to measure how bad the drought is in the West. Using GPS technology, they found that the ground has actually risen up to half an inch in some parts due to the lack of water.
Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego found that the lack of water weighing down on the earth's surface is actually allowing for the ground to rise up an average of 4 millimeters, with the most extreme cases in the mountains of California where they have actually risen up to 15 mm (about a half inch). The findings of their research have been published in the most recent online edition of the journal Science.
While it may seem like an incredible thing to conceptualize, Duncan Agnew, one of the scientists involved in the research explained it to Popular Science using the age-old Rubber Ball Metaphor. "Think of the Earth as a big rubber ball. It's made of material that is elastic, and if you push on it, it goes in a little bit. If that push is taken away, by water evaporating, there's less weight on that part of the earth, and it goes up."
How much water is that? About 62 trillion gallons of water. "If you had a volume of water the size of the western U.S. that was 10 centimeters thick, that's how much water has been removed," says Agnew. That's also about 240 gigatons if you like more big numbers. Water is heavy; just think of all those bottled water pallets you buy from Trade Joe's all the time.
The data has been collected from GPS sites set up eight years ago throughout the West meant to monitor plate tectonic movements. They noticed a sudden vertical shift in the GPS sensors within the last 18 months, the syncing up quite nicely with the time period of the current drought. Despite the quake that hit our friends up North earlier this morning (stay safe guys!), Agnew says these changes won't have much effect on seismic activity: "This will change the stress on faults, but by an amount that's really small."