The record-setting drought in the western United States is not just leaving lawns, fields and wildlife parched, but the deficit of about 63 trillion gallons of water is actually causing the earth’s crust to rise upward.
Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, who measured the level of the earth’s crust with a network of GPS stations that is normally used to predict earthquakes found that the amount of water the region missing is enough to totally cover it with 4 inches of water.
Without this water though due to lack of rain and snow, the crust has risen an average of 4 millimeters in the western U.S. within the last year. The California mountains have seen a more dramatic rise of 15 millimeters. The loss of water since last year is equivalent to the annual loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet, according to the study published in the journal Science.
“It’s just amazing to us that this covers the entire western United States,” Adrian Borsa, one of the study’s co-authors said.
Slight movement of the earth’s crust is not unusual. It’s known to drop a little in the winter and spring, when weighed down by water and then rise again during the dry season, Borsa said.
Geophysics professor Duncan Agnew said in a statement that the lift in the crust is not having much of an effect on the San Andreas fault and will not likely increase earthquake risk.
Colin Amos, a geology professor at Western Washington University who was not involved with this study, told the Los Angeles Times that the finding “calls attention to the severity of this drought.”
With this being California’s third year in a drought, the conditions recently brought forward two bills in the state’s legislature that could regulate groundwater withdrawals.
California’s status as the country’s biggest farm economy, with the water-thirsty Central Valley the most productive U.S. agricultural area, makes the issue of interest nationwide. Farmers use 80 percent of the state’s water.
While California currently has a pump-as-you-please policy, other states treat groundwater more as a shared resource and have created groundwater allowances.
Crop farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the sting of the drought either. Watch this report to learn about how honeybee keepers are impacted by the extremely dry weather as well:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.