Detection and measurement of land subsidence using global positioning system and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, Coachella Valley, California, 1998-2000

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4239
By: , and 



Land subsidence associated with ground-water-level declines has been recognized as a potential problem in Coachella Valley, California. Since the early 1920s, ground water has been a major source of agricultural, municipal, and domestic supply in the valley. Pumping of ground water resulted in water-level declines as large as 15 meters (50 feet) through the late 1940s. In 1949, the importation of Colorado River water to the lower Coachella Valley began, resulting in a reduction in ground-water pumping and a recovery of water levels during the 1950s through the 1970s. Since the late 1970s, demand for water in the valley has exceeded deliveries of imported surface water, resulting in increased pumping and associated ground-water-level declines and, consequently, an increase in the potential for land subsidence caused by aquifer-system compaction.

The location, extent, and magnitude of the vertical land-surface changes in Coachella Valley between 1998 and 2000 were determined using Global Positioning System (GPS) and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) methods. GPS measurements made at 15 geodetic monuments in the lower Coachella Valley indicate that -34 to +60 millimeters ± 45 millimeters (-0.11 to +0.20 foot ± 0.15 foot) of vertical change in the land surface occurred during the 2-year period. Changes at three of the monuments exceeded the maximum uncertainty of ± 45 millimeters (± 0.15 foot) at the 95-percent confidence level, which indicates that small amounts of uplift occurred at these monuments between October 1998 and August 2000. Water-level measurements made at wells near the three uplifted monuments during this 2-year period indicate that the water levels fluctuate seasonally; water-level measurements made at these wells in September 1998 and September 2000 indicate that the water levels rose slightly near two monuments and declined slightly near the third. The relation between the seasonally fluctuating, but fairly stable, water levels between September 1998 and September 2000 and the slight uplift at the monuments may indicate that the water levels are fluctuating in the elastic range of stress and that the preconsolidation stress of the aquifer system was not exceeded during the 2-year period.

Results of the InSAR measurements made between June 17, 1998, and October 4, 2000, indicate that land subsidence, ranging from about 40 to 80 millimeters (0.13 to 0.26 foot), occurred in three areas of the Coachella Valley; near Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta. Measurements made between June 17, 1998, and June 2, 1999, indicate that about 15 millimeters (0.05 foot) occurred southeast of Lake Cahuilla. All the subsiding areas coincide with or are near areas where ground-water levels declined between 1998 and 2000; some water levels in 2000 were at the lowest levels in their recorded histories. The coincident areas of subsidence and declining water levels suggest that aquifer-system compaction may be causing subsidence. If the stresses imposed by the historically lowest water levels exceeded the preconsolidation stress, the aquifer-system compaction and associated land subsidence may be permanent. Although the localized character of the subsidence signals look typical of the type of subsidence characteristically caused by localized pumping, the subsidence also may be related to tectonic activity in the valley.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Detection and measurement of land subsidence using global positioning system and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, Coachella Valley, California, 1998-2000
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2002-4239
DOI 10.3133/wri024239
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description vii, 29 p.
Country United States
State California
County Riverside County
Other Geospatial Coachella Valley
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