U.S. and German satellites captured stunning images that show the stark contrast between California’s water levels over the last year, which were massively impacted by one of the rainiest seasons on record.
The images show the net gain in water levels over this past winter, which NASA says is the greatest “year-over-year water gain” in nearly 22 years.
The impact is most noticeable in the San Joaquin, Sacramento and Tulare river basins and the images shared by NASA show the distinct difference between October 2022 and March 2023.
The images were taken as part of the GRACE-FO satellite mission, which is a joint partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences.
“This past winter’s bonanza of atmospheric rivers alleviated some of the water deficit that the state incurred during periods of drought over the last 10 years, which included the three driest years on record in California,” NASA said in an article posted to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.
While the massive amounts of rain has alleviated the bulk of the state’s drought on the surface, NASA scientists caution that California’s underground aquifers are “fully tapped for irrigation” and could take several years to fully charge again.
Felix Landerer, GRACE-FO project scientist at NASA, said the refilled surface basins is a sight for sore eyes, but “one good winter of rain and snow won’t make up for years of extreme drought and extensive groundwater use.”
The GRACE-FO team will continue to track California’s water storage through the summer and after the snowpack melts, NASA said. Water levels across the state’s lakes, streams and reservoirs will be monitored as well as the drier months approach.
The GRACE-FO mission utilizes two identical satellites and a novel measuring technique to determine the changes in total volume of water in an area. For more about the program, click here.