Flickr/woodleywonderworks

The massive loss of groundwater has caused a tectonic uplift of more than half an inch in some areas.

File under apocalyptic imagery: The western United States' worst drought in possibly 500 years is causing the ground to rise up like an uncoiling spring.

A new report in Science from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego found that the massive loss of groundwater associated with the drought has caused a tectonic "uplift" of more than half an inch in California's mountains, with an average 0.15 of an inch across the west.

Sifting through ground-positioning data from GPS stations throughout the region, the researchers had discovered those stations had been moving upwards in recent years, coinciding with the current drought. Duncan Agnew, a geophysicist specializing in earthquakes and an author of the study, told Scripps that the data can only be explained by a rapid uplift of the tectonic plate underlying the western U.S. (which, he stressed, has virtually no effect on the San Andreas fault and does not increase risk of earthquakes). 

Spatial distribution of ground displacements from March 1 of 2011 through 2014. Uplift is indicated by yellow-red colors and sinking by shades of blue. Gray regions show where stations were excluded in the Central Valley of California. (Science)

The findings estimate a total water deficit of nearly 63 trillion gallons of water. To visualize that number, imagine a four-inch layer of water spread out over the entire western U.S. Now, evaporate that, and you've got the effect of this literally earth-shattering drought.

(Top image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks.)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Pittsburgh's skyline
    Equity

    Can a 'New Localism' Help Cities Transcend Gridlock?

    Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak talk about the model of collaborative urban leadership in their book The New Localism.

  2. Design

    Paris: 'Please Do Not Give Us This Free Jeff Koons Sculpture'

    Wrong art, wrong location, say critics.

  3. A tow truck operator hooks up a damaged bus in 2011 in New York.
    POV

    Should Transit Agencies Panic?

    Many predict that new technology will doom public transportation. They’re wrong.  

  4. Orange traffic cones save parking spaces on a neighborhood street in South Boston.
    Life

    The Psychology of Boston's Snow Parking Wars

    In Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, an informal code allows residents to claim a parking space after shoveling it out. But the practice is often at odds both with the law and with the mores of changing neighborhoods.

  5. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.