Sierra Nevada Mountains Grew An Inch During Drought, Study Finds

Posted: Dec 16 2017, 6:57am CST | by , Updated: Dec 16 2017, 7:01am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Sierra Nevada Mountains Grew an Inch During Drought, Study Finds
Credit: trailkrum, CC-BY-2.0

Loss of water in drought caused Sierra Nevada to rise

California’s Sierra Nevada mountains grew an inch taller during the recent drought, a new NASA study revealed.

The drought in California, which lasted for about five years, significantly altered Sierra Nevada mountains. Lack of water caused the mountain range to rise nearly an inch (24 millimeters) in height during drought years from October 2011 to October 2015. In the following two relatively wet years, the rocks regained about half as much water as was lost during the drought and have fallen about half an inch.

“This suggests that the solid Earth has a greater capacity to store water than previously thought.” Lead study author Donald Argus of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

Researchers came to that conclusion after analyzing GPS data. The 1,300 GPS stations that are placed throughout the mountain range can detect a change of few millimeterschanges in elevation. Researchers examined 11 years of GPS data to determine how Sierra Nevada elevation has changed during the drought. They found that, between 2011 and 2015, Sierra Nevada grew an inch in height. During the same period, a huge amount of water drained out of mountain rocks and went down the solid Earth below.

Researchers suggest that the change in elevation was caused by tectonic uplift or the extensive pumping of groundwater in the Central Valley, which runs along the Sierra. However, it is not definitive. Many other factors could also affect the process.

“One of the major unknowns in mountain hydrology is what happens below the soil. How much snowmelt percolates through fractured rock straight downward into the core of the mountain?" said Jay Famiglietti, jet propulsion lab scientist who was involved in the study. "This is one of the key topics that we addressed in our study."

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