California Drought Recovery Assessment Using GRACE Satellite Gravimetry Information
Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
California has been experiencing its most extreme drought in recent history due to a combination of record high temperatures and exceptionally low precipitation. An estimate for when the drought can be expected to end is needed for risk mitigation and water management. A crucial component of drought recovery assessments is the estimation of terrestrial water storage (TWS) deficit. Previous studies on drought recovery have been limited to surface water hydrology (precipitation and/or runoff) for estimating changes in TWS, neglecting the contribution of groundwater deficits to the recovery time of the system. Groundwater requires more time to recover than surface water storage; therefore, the inclusion of groundwater storage in drought recovery assessments is essential for understanding the long-term vulnerability of a region. Here we assess the probability, for varying timescales, of California’s current TWS deficit returning to its long-term historical mean. Our method consists of deriving the region’s fluctuations in TWS from changes in the gravity field observed by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. We estimate the probability that meteorological inputs, precipitation minus evaporation and runoff, over different timespans will balance the current GRACE-derived TWS deficit (e.g. in 3, 6, 12 months). This method improves upon previous techniques as the GRACE-derived water deficit comprises all hydrologic sources, including surface water, groundwater, and snow cover. With this empirical probability assessment we expect to improve current estimates of California’s drought recovery time, thereby improving risk mitigation.