The Sierra Nevada Mountains Rose in Times of Drought (Study)

sierra nevada mountains seen from afar

The Sierra Nevada mountains lost water but gained height during the California drought.

If there were ever a case of climate changes affecting geology, it would be in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the range that runs along the California/Nevada border.

Because of the California drought from 2011-2015, the mountains reportedly lost 11.9 trillion gallons of water. According to NASA, a consequence of this loss is that the mountains have grown taller by about 2.5 centimeters.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains Grew in Times of Loss

Not only did the mountains rise practically an inch in this four-year period, after heavy snow and rainfall in 2016 and 2017, the mountains actually reclaimed almost half that water and fell back by about 1.3 centimeters.

Previously, it had been challenging to establish the amount of water that remained trapped between cracks and crevices in the mountain. However, the new data has shown that there is a lot more liquid held before and then subsequently lost during major droughts.

Those gallons of water amount for a significant weight on the mountains, around 45 trillion metric tons. As the water is lost during drought conditions, the Earth’s crust moves upwards. Think of the mountains as a scale: heavy objects keep a scale down. As those objects are removed, the scale lifts up.

According to Donald Argus, study lead and part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this fluctuation in water levels:

“suggests that the solid Earth has a greater capacity to store water than previously thought.”

While this research is a boon for geologists who were previously unable to measure these tiny changes in the Earth’s crust in real time, the newfound water resource does not amount to much for humans, as a whole.

This water is not currently part of the sources that supply the surrounding cities and farms of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and gaining access to the trapped water would be too expensive of a venture to take on.

Image Source: Wikimedia