Sierra Nevada mountain range in California grew taller during drought

NASA study has found that the mountain ranges of Sierra Nevada increased in height during drought season and also found that the height would decrease with rainfall or snow.

sierra nevada
The Sierra Nevada range rose almost an inch during California's recent drought due to loss of water from within fractured rocks. trailkrum, CC-BY-2.0

A recent NASA study has found that the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California had increased in height up to one inch (24 millimeters) during drought years from October 2011 to October 2015. The research found that loss of water from the rocks of the mountain range resulted in this natural phenomenon.

The mountain, however, regained about half an inch (12 millimeters) of its height when it received half the quantity of water in the rock through snow and rainfall. Donald Argus of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said, "This suggests that the solid Earth has a greater capacity to store water than previously thought."

A large quantity of water was lost from the cracks and soil in fractured mountain rock during droughts.

According to the research paper titled Sustained water loss in California's mountain ranges during the severe drought from 2012 through 2015 inferred from GPS, the research team found that about 10.8 cubic miles of water had been lost from within the fractured mountain rocks in between 2011- 2015. It was found that the Earth's surface would lower itself with a larger volume of water and rebound with the loss of water.

The movement of tectonic plates, volcanic activity, high-and low-pressure weather systems and Earth's rebound since the last ice age have contributed to the change in the ground levels. The research has been originally published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

The team calculated the amount of water loss by estimating the increase of height and by comparing it with other factors.

The research used data from 1,300 GPS stations in mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington, between 2006 and October 2017. The GPS receivers used in the research were installed as a part of the National Science Foundation's Plate Boundary Observatory which was meant to measure the tectonic motion in the region's active faults and volcanoes. They monitor elevation changes which are greater than a tenth of an inch.

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