Western portions of the U.S. are being impacted by an extremely severe drought. Extreme droughts bring your typical problems. Higher food prices, water shortages and restrictions, etc.

Scientists have found a new way drought impacts the landscape. Pushing the ground higher. The results showing how much the ground was pushed higher were published in the August 21 issue of the journal Science. Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California, San Diego published the study. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) also lent their support.

The team likened the rise in the ground to an “uncoiled spring.”

Now, don’t worry. You won’t be seeing some weird hump in the ground on your lawn when you go outside. The rise in the ground in the mountains of California was only 4 millimeters (0.15 inch) to 15 millimeters (0.6 inch) on average.

Still, it’s pretty incredible the wide-reaching impacts droughts have. “The amount of uplift that occurs from 2013 onward both in the magnitude and extent was unlike anything in the GPS record that we had,” Scripps researcher Adrian Borsa told Reuters.

This ‘rise’ in the earth is caused by a rapid uplift in the tectonic plate that the western U.S. sits on according to Duncan Agnew, a Scripps Oceanography geophysics professor. Agnew does note that the uplift in the overall tectonic plate has “virtually no” impact to the San Andreas fault and does not raise the risk of earthquakes.

Dan Cayan, a research meteorologist with Scripps and USGS, says these results paint a dire picture of the water situation out west. “These results quantify the amount of water mass lost in the past few years,” said Cayan in a press release.

“It also represents a powerful new way to track water resources over a very large landscape. We can home in on the Sierra Nevada mountains and critical California snowpack. These results demonstrate that this technique can be used to study changes in fresh water stocks in other regions around the world, if they have a network of GPS sensors.”

Image credit: Reuters


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