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

Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurd President Urges World Community to Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Comment Sorting
Comment on this forum (2)
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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid