News / Science & Technology

Western US Drought Causing Earth's Crust to Rise

A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (Shawn Lawrence, UNAVCO)
A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (Shawn Lawrence, UNAVCO)

The major drought gripping the western United States is not only drying the landscape, it’s causing the land to rise.

Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego used GPS data to determine the drought has caused the land to rise, on average, 4 millimeters across the western states. The Sierra mountains of California rose over half an inch.

Duncan Agnew, a Scripps Oceanography geophysics professor and co-author of the paper said that “in areas of deep soil, the material behaves like a sponge. When the water dries out, it shrinks or goes down.”

“If you’re not on deep spoil the effect is that the earth is like a spring,” he said “The water is no longer pressing down on that area so it rises.”

That’s what’s happening in the western U.S., and the findings quantify the staggering water loss wrought by the drought.

Based on the findings, Agnew said he and his team believe the water loss due to the drought exceeds 240 trillion liters of water.

“It’s like covering the western half of the U.S. with a layer of water 10 centimeters thick,” he said.

If the drought lifts, expect the land to fall under the weight of the water. In fact, Agnew said, there was a downward shift in 2011, which saw a very wet winter.

Agnew said the rise would not effect California’s earthquake prone San Andreas Fault.

“It does change the stress on the fault, but by a very small amount,” he said. “It’s the same pressure you’d feel putting your hand in an inch of water.”

Last year was the driest on record in California, and this year may be just as dry.  

Some reservoirs are empty and the Sierra mountain snowpack, which melts and fills rivers in the springtime, is at dangerously low levels - just one quarter of normal.  

Farmers warn of another "Dust Bowl" - referring to the drought and dust storms that ravaged American farmlands in the 1930s.  

The drought is so bad that California Governor Jerry Brown called it “epochal.”

Eighty percent of the state is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, leading to strict measures restricting the use of water.

Agnew’s paper appears in the August 21 online edition of the journal Science.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: tom carney from: new jersey
September 01, 2014 5:25 PM
In about 700-800 AD wasn't there a 200-year drought over what is now the American Southwest? Didn't it last long enough and be severe enough to move whole peoples from the area of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde down to where today's North American Pueblos are? If true, this is really not a unique situation, no? Just unique in our times?

by: Mark from: Arizona
August 24, 2014 1:51 PM
We are fine with water in Arizona. Been raining here all over for 2 months now.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs