Researchers at Stanford University USA are using satellites to measure the amount of groundwater in the Earth
June 27th 2014
Geophysicists at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment are using satellite readings taken hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface to measure changes in groundwater levels. The satellites use electromagnetic waves to monitor changes in the elevation of the Earth’s surface to within a millimetre. The technology, known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), has previously been used to collect data on volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides.
With funding from NASA and the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford, the researchers used InSAR to make measurements at 15 locations in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Based on observed changes in the Earth’s surface, the scientists compiled water-level measurements for confined aquifers at three of the sampling locations that matched the data from nearby monitoring wells.
The research has been published in the journal Water Resources Research and publicised in a press release to the Stanford News Service. Researchers told the Stanford News Service that the technique could revolutionise management of groundwater resources. “If we can get this working in between wells, we can measure groundwater levels across vast areas without using lots of on-the-ground monitors,” said lead author Jessica Reeves. The scientists hope that, eventually, the groundwater data could measure seasonal changes in groundwater levels, which would allow local districts to determine levels for sustainable water use.
See a previous item for news of the launch of Copernicus, Europe’s environmental satellite.
Water Resources Research – Abstract: “Estimating temporal changes in hydraulic head using InSAR data in the San Luis Valley, Colorado”.
Stanford Press Release: “Stanford breakthrough provides picture of underground water”.
Photograph: Hubble Space Telescope and Earth Limb. From NASA on The Commons.