Elevation of Entire Western US Rises Due to Drought

500 TRILLION POUNDS!

That’s the weight of all the water (more than 64 trillion gallons) that has been lost due to drought in the western United States. That’s a lot of water. A whole lot water. Its the equivalent of 100 million olympic size pools, or the weight of a half billion jumbo jets.

With all that weight lifted off its shoulders, the entire western half of the North American continent is on the rise, literally. A new study published in Science today (Aug. 21st) details just how much of a rise is occurring. The average elevation gain is 0.16 inches, which doesn’t sound like that much, until you consider that the entire continent rose this much in just three years. And some places have bounced up much more than that, up to 0.6 inches in some areas.

How does this happen? The process is called post-glacial rebound. As the name suggests, it is a phenomenon that was first identified in association with the receding of glaciers and ice-sheets at the end of last ice age. During the ice age, the incredible weight of ice and water pushed the land downward. As the glaciers melted the land rebounded upward. In the north-east United States, this rebound from the last glacial period is still occurring, albeit at an incredibly slow pace (far slower than the rise due to the drought).

What does this elevation gain tell us about the drought? Along with the recent NASA GRACE study that measured the change in gravitational pull of the Colorado River basin, this study gives scientist the type of data needed to determine just how much water has been lost during this recent drought.

 

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