Satellite Images Show How Bad California Drought Really Is

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 100 percent of the state of California is in a drought as of last Thursday (via USA Today). The three NASA images above do a great job of illustrating the severity of the state’s plight, and how dry things have gotten over the course of the past 12 years. These are not photographs, but images created by the satellite (called GRACE, or Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment).

So how are these drought measurements made with the satellite? UC Irvine hydrologist James Famiglietti explains in a podcast episode with Science Magazine(via Mashable).

“Each [satellite] is about the size of a squashed minivan, and they orbit at about 400 kilometers. And what happens is that the change in mass on the surface, say, because of a big flood or a big load of snow on the mountains, actually pulls those spring-loaded weights towards Earth’s surface.”

Using these produced images, the true nature of California’s drought crisis has been made evident. This gives us a full picture of what California is facing.

A state of emergency was declared by California’s governor Jerry Brown in January of this year. In July, the California State Water Board enacted an emergency state regulation that limited the use of water by its residents.

However, despite these measures, California’s water supply continued its sharp decline, with reservoir storage levels dropping to 52 percent of their historical average, according to USA Today. NASA commented on where this drought has hit the hardest.

“California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins, including the Central Valley, have suffered the greatest losses, in part due to increased groundwater pumping to support agricultural production. Between 2011 and 2014, the combined river basins have lost 4 trillion gallons (15 cubic kilometers, or 12 million acre-feet) of water each year, an amount far greater than California’s 38 million residents use in cities and homes annually.”

The depletion of the groundwater mentioned above also makes things more difficult for California, as groundwater is not so easily replenished as surface water, Mashable states.

California isn’t the only place that has been hit with such a bad drought, Famiglietti tells Science Magazine.

“We’re seeing it happening all over the world. It’s happening in most of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world where we rely on those aquifers. But we’re able to see now the impact we’re having on this over exploitation.”

Things are looking tough for California in its current drought, but if climate models are any indicator, the worst may be yet to come (via the Los Angeles Times).

[Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of California, Irvine]

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