22 Aug 2014:
Drought in Western U.S.
Has Caused Land to Rise, Researchers Say
GPS station in California's Inyo Mountains
The western U.S. has lost so much water during the ongoing severe drought that the land has sprung up by as much as 15 millimeters (0.6 inches), according to a study in the journal Science
. Water at the surface of the earth typically weighs down the land, but the region has lost enough water that the tectonic plate underlying the western U.S. has undergone rapid uplift, much like an uncoiling spring, researchers explain. California's water deficit over the past 18 months has caused some of its mountain ranges to rise by more than half an inch, and the West overall has risen by 0.15 inches, according to the study. Using ground positioning data from GPS stations throughout the region, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, estimate the water loss to be 240 gigatons (63 trillion gallons) — equivalent to a nearly four-inch layer of water spread out over the entire western U.S. Besides illustrating the West's rapid and extreme water loss, the findings show that this GPS-based method can be used to study changes in water stocks in other regions of the world, the researchers say.
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