drought, West, California, rise | The Old Farmer's Almanac

High and Dry: Going Up in the World

Print Friendly and PDF

Californians know the current drought is leaving them high and dry, but recent scientific findings show that they really are being left higher when they are drier!

As California’s water supplies grow lower, its mountains are rising higher! Source: USGS

It’s not just California—the entire West is on the move. The West has been suffering through two and a half years of dry weather. Lakes are evaporating, rivers are running at a trickle and snowy mountaintops are reduced to dry brown crags. Scientists report that the western United States is missing some 62 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the entire region six inches deep. That is a huge amount of water.

It is also a huge weight. What a startled group of scientists, monitoring GPS instruments that normally monitor earthquake movements, learned is that when you remove that much weightthe earth will rise. The equipment shows that the entire West is rising like an uncoiled spring. The entire region is now an average of 0.15 of an inch higher, but California, going through its worst drought in 119 years, has had its mountains grow by half an inch!

The West is dry, but 100% of California is in drought conditions with 58% in exceptional drought.

Their study, published in the August 21 issue of Science, had some comforting news. The first was that the rising did not seem to trigger or have any relationship to earthquakes. (Drilling too much underground water can trigger small quakes, but this type of movement doesn’t) Secondly, this study shows a new way for scientists to sensitively keep track of water supplies. Finally, going back, they discovered that rainfall makes the earth sink back again. The data from the 2011 rains showed the surface of California snuggling down a few millimeters and soaking up the moisture.

If El Niño arrives this winter, snow will help the California Sierras settle down again. Source: NOAA

What goes up, must come down. Hopefully, the expected El Niño will arrive this winter and the West can sink back and enjoy the rain and snow.