California is Sinking Faster than Previously Thought

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New studies of California’s shaky geography have revealed that the state is sinking faster than scientists had previously guessed. California’s current drought has depleted the aquifers located deep below the state’s surface which is causing parts of the state to sink up to 2 inches per month. The groundwater levels are lower than ever before in the state’s history.

More than just accentuating the drastic effects of the California drought, the loss of groundwater and sinking effect could have permanent effects on the geography of California. If more groundwater isn’t absorbed into the aquifers, which provides a stable base for the surface to rest on, the ground could lose its ability to hold groundwater entirely.

Researchers are tracking the changes in California’s geography using airplanes, GPS, satellites, and a remote sensing system called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR. The sensor tracks elevation changes over time and can pinpoint areas that are sinking or shrinking faster than normal. For instance, InSAR found that areas near Fresno sunk 13 inches over a period of eight months, while the Sacramento Valley is sinking at a rate of half an inch per month.

NASA's UAVSAR measured cumulative vertical ground movement impacting the California Aqueduct near Huron and Kettleman City from July 2013 to March 2015. The colored overlay shows areas where subsidence exceeded 7 inches (17.8 centimeters). UAVSAR pixel resolution is 20 by 20 feet (6 by 6 meters). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s UAVSAR measured cumulative vertical ground movement impacting the California Aqueduct near Huron and Kettleman City from July 2013 to March 2015. The colored overlay shows areas where subsidence exceeded 7 inches (17.8 centimeters). UAVSAR pixel resolution is 20 by 20 feet (6 by 6 meters).
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The sinking of California can have some negative side effects, especially on infrastructure. When the ground sinks structures like houses, bridges, roads, and city buildings can crack and shift. Some of these changes are imperceptible, but over time they can cause some very dangerous situations. Additionally, the lack of groundwater is already having an impact on California, its residents, and its agricultural output.

The use of technologies like satellites and InSAR can certainly help track the changes in California’s geography, which is a valuable data set to have. Unfortunately, many of the problems California is currently facing need to be addressed before more permanent damage is caused.

More: NASA: California Drought Causing Valley Land to Sink – August 19, 2015

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