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Satellite Images Reveal Severity of California's Water Loss

 / Updated 
A composite of three images with data from the GRACE satellite project.NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of California, Irvine

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Imagery from a NASA satellite project paints a dramatic picture of California drought stretching back a dozen years, according to scientists. A compilation of three images from the GRACE project show loss of water storage in the state from June 2002 to June 2014, using April 2002 as an arbitrary starting point, said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. (The two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites were launched in March 2002.) In just the past three years, Famiglietti told NBC News, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins alone have lost 12 million acre-feet of water storage, or 4 trillion gallons. That’s enough to fill more than 6 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

But the data indicate California’s water losses have “been going on for 10 or 11 years, not just the past three,” he said. Another important point is that more than half of the loss is in groundwater. “Many of us in the climate community think we’ll see more drought in the future, and we’re going to need that groundwater,” he said. Famiglietti said the JPL will release a video on the changes in December. Weakening batteries in the satellites mean data can be supplied just 10 months of each year but a replacement is due to launch in 2017. And drought isn't the only item on GRACE's menu: NASA says the project also can be used to analyze flood dangers.

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