Land subsidence associated with ground-water-level declines has been recognized as a potential problem in parts of the Mojave Desert, California. Ground water has been the primary source of domestic, agricultural, and municipal water supplies in the desert since the early 1900s. Pumping of ground water from the Mojave River and Morongo ground-water basins in the southwestern Mojave Desert resulted in water-level declines of more than 30 meters (100 feet) between the 1950s and the 1990s.
A Global Positioning System (GPS) survey of a geodetic network was used to determine the location, extent, and magnitude of vertical land-surface changes in Lucerne Valley in the Morongo ground-water basin. The GPS survey was conducted in 1998 to estimate historical elevation changes by comparing GPS-derived elevations with historical elevations (which were available for some of the monuments in the network as early as 1944) and to establish baseline values that can be used for comparisons with future GPS surveys. The GPS measurements indicated that about 600 millimeters (2 feet) [plus or minus 1,500 millimeters (5 feet)] of subsidence occurred at three of the monuments between 1969 and 1998 but that very little to no vertical change in position occurred at seven other monuments in the network. Water levels in the area of subsidence in Lucerne Valley declined about 15 meters (50 feet) during 1970-98.
Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) methods were used to characterize vertical land-surface changes in the Mojave River and Morongo ground-water basins during various intervals of time between 1992 and 1999. Interferograms, InSAR-generated displacement maps, show that subsidence ranging from 45 to 90 mm (0.15 to 0.3 ft) occurred in four areas of these two ground-water basins--the El Mirage, Lockhart-Harper Lake (dry), Newberry Springs, and Lucerne Valley areas. Some of the InSAR measurements were affected by the earthquakes at Landers and Hector Mine, California, and by atmospheric artifacts.
Water-level data were examined for areas undergoing vertical land-surface changes to determine whether the vertical land-surface changes may be related to aquifer-system compaction caused by ground-water-level changes. Temporally relevant water-level data were sparse for some areas, particularly the El Mirage and Lockhart-Harper Lake (dry) areas. Water levels in wells proximate to the subsiding areas generally declined between 1992 and 1999; water levels in some wells proximate to the subsiding areas experienced seasonal periods of declines and recoveries.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Detection and measurement of land subsidence using interferometric synthetic aperture radar and Global Positioning System, San Bernardino County, Mojave Desert, California