A New Technique for Modeling Land Subsidence Facilitates Better Groundwater Management
Rosemary Knight | December 1st, 2019
Land subsidence – the sudden sinking or gradual settling of Earth’s surface – can occur naturally or be triggered by human activity. One of the most common human-affected factors is groundwater pumping, a practice that has been steadily increasing due to prolonged periods of drought. Groundwater pumping is so prevalent in some areas that it is severely compromising the quantity and quality of the groundwater as well as the physical structure of the land and aquifer capacity beneath it. Large-scale initiatives for putting water back into the ground, or groundwater recharge, are being implemented in some regions. However, groundwater resource managers still need better information to determine where the land is at greatest risk of subsidence as well as where recharge efforts would be the most effective. Integrating two reliable data gathering sources – helicopter-deployed systems (airborne electromagnetic or AEM technology) that measure electromagnetic fields and satellite-deployed systems (interferometric synthetic aperture radar or InSAR) to measure deformations – offers groundwater managers an improved method for more accurately modeling changes in the land surface related to the pumping and recharge of groundwater. Additionally, the ability to more precisely detect subsidence may offer an early warning system for declining groundwater levels.