Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stanford breakthrough provides picture of underground water

18.06.2014

Stanford scientists prove that satellite-collected data can accurately measure aquifer levels, a finding with potentially huge implications for management of precious global water sources.

Superman isn't the only one who can see through solid surfaces. In a development that could revolutionize the management of precious groundwater around the world, Stanford researchers have pioneered the use of satellites to accurately measure levels of water stored hundreds of feet below ground. Their findings were published recently in Water Resources Research.


Stanford scientists prove that satellite-collected data can accurately measure underground water, an important source for crop irrigation. (Photo: USDA)

Groundwater provides 25 to 40 percent of all drinking water worldwide, and is the primary source of freshwater in many arid countries, according to the National Groundwater Association. About 60 percent of all withdrawn groundwater goes to crop irrigation. In the United States, the number is closer to 70 percent. In much of the world, however, underground reservoirs or aquifers are poorly managed and rapidly depleted due to a lack of water-level data. Developing useful groundwater models, availability predictions and water budgets is very challenging.

Study co-author Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics and senior fellow, by courtesy, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, compared groundwater use to a mismanaged bank account: "It's like me saying I'm going to retire and live off my savings without knowing how much is in the account."

Lead author Jessica Reeves, a postdoctoral scholar in geophysics, extended Knight's analogy to the connection among farmers who depend on the same groundwater source. "Imagine your account was connected to someone else's account, and they were withdrawing from it without your knowing."

Until now, the only way a water manager could gather data about the state of water tables in a watershed was to drill monitoring wells. The process is time and resource intensive, especially for confined aquifers, which are deep reservoirs separated from the ground surface by multiple layers of impermeable clay. Even with monitoring wells, good data is not guaranteed. Much of the data available from monitoring wells across the American West is old and of varying quality and scientific usefulness. Compounding the problem, not all well data is openly shared.

To solve these challenges, Reeves, Knight, Stanford Woods Institute-affiliated geophysics and electrical engineering Professor Howard Zebker, Stanford civil and environmental engineering Professor Peter Kitanidis and Willem Schreüder of Principia Mathematica Inc. looked to the sky.

The basic concept: Satellites that use electromagnetic waves to monitor changes in the elevation of Earth's surface to within a millimeter could be mined for clues about groundwater. The technology, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), had previously been used primarily to collect data on volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides.

With funding from NASA, the researchers used InSAR to make measurements at 15 locations in Colorado's San Luis Valley, an important agricultural region and flyway for migrating birds. Based on observed changes in Earth's surface, the scientists compiled water-level measurements for confined aquifers at three of the sampling locations that matched the data from nearby monitoring wells.

"If we can get this working in between wells, we can measure groundwater levels across vast areas without using lots of on-the-ground monitors," Reeves said.

The breakthrough holds the potential for giving resource managers in Colorado and elsewhere valuable data as they build models to assess scenarios such as the effect on groundwater from population increases and droughts.

Just as computers and smartphones inevitably get faster, satellite data will only improve. That means more and better data for monitoring and managing groundwater. Eventually, InSAR data could play a vital role in measuring seasonal changes in groundwater supply and help determine levels for sustainable water use.

In the meantime, Knight envisions a Stanford-based, user-friendly online database that consolidates InSAR findings and a range of other current remote sensing data for soil moisture, precipitation and other components of a water budget. "Very few, if any, groundwater managers are tapping into any of the data," Knight said. With Zebker, postdoctoral fellow Jingyi Chen and colleagues at the University of South Carolina, Knight recently submitted a grant proposal for this concept to NASA.

The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment is finding practical ways to meet growing demand for freshwater. Learn more about Woods-sponsored freshwater research.

Contact

Rosemary Knight, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, (650) 736-1487, rknight@stanford.edu

Jesse Reeves, Stanford Stanford Geophysics Department, (650) 897-5401, jesser@stanford.edu

Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, (650) 721-1881, rjordan@stanford.edu

Bjorn Carey | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2014/pr-radar-groundwater-woods-061614.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Scientists observe first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer
01.07.2016 | University of Leeds

nachricht Climate study finds human fingerprint in Northern Hemisphere greening
30.06.2016 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mainz-based physicists find missing link between glass formation and crystallization

Densified regions with drastically reduced internal motion either act as crystal precursors or cluster and frustrate all further dynamics

Glasses are neither fluids nor crystals. They are amorphous solids and one of the big puzzles in condensed matter physics. For decades, the question of how...

Im Focus: Thousands on one chip: New Method to study Proteins

Since the completion of the human genome an important goal has been to elucidate the function of the now known proteins: a new molecular method enables the investigation of the function for thousands of proteins in parallel. Applying this new method, an international team of researchers with leading participation of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) was able to identify hundreds of previously unknown interactions among proteins.

The human genome and those of most common crops have been decoded for many years. Soon it will be possible to sequence your personal genome for less than 1000...

Im Focus: Optical lenses, hardly larger than a human hair

3D printing enables the smalles complex micro-objectives

3D printing revolutionized the manufacturing of complex shapes in the last few years. Using additive depositing of materials, where individual dots or lines...

Im Focus: Flexible OLED applications arrive

R2D2, a joint project to analyze and development high-TRL processes and technologies for manufacture of flexible organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been successfully completed.

In contrast to point light sources like LEDs made of inorganic semiconductor crystals, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are light-emitting surfaces. Their...

Im Focus: Unexpected flexibility found in odorant molecules

High resolution rotational spectroscopy reveals an unprecedented number of conformations of an odorant molecule – a new world record!

In a recent publication in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Quantum technologies to revolutionise 21st century - Nobel Laureates discuss at Lindau

30.06.2016 | Event News

International Conference ‘GEO BON’ Wants to Close Knowledge Gaps in Global Biodiversity

28.06.2016 | Event News

ERES 2016: The largest conference in the European real estate industry

09.06.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mainz-based physicists find missing link between glass formation and crystallization

01.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists observe first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer

01.07.2016 | Earth Sciences

MRI technique induces strong, enduring visual association

01.07.2016 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>