Detection and Measurement of Land Subsidence Using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar and Global Positioning System, San Bernardino County, Mojave Desert, California

By Michelle Sneed, Marti E. Ikehara, Sylvia V. Stork, Falk Amelung, and Devin L. Galloway



Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4015

Sacramento, California 2003

Prepared in cooperation with the Mojave Water Agency

Text (4.7 MB PDF)

To view PDF documents, you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader (free from Adobe Systems) installed on your computer.
(download free copy of Acrobat Reader).


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.




Description of Study Area


Mojave River Ground-Water Basin

Morongo Ground-Water Basin

Mechanics of Land Subsidence

Global Positioning System (GPS) Survey of Lucerne Valley Area

Land-Subsidence Monitoring Network

Determination of Ellipsoid Heights and Orthometric Heights (Elevations)

GPS Results and Ground-Water Levels in Nearby Wells

Interferometric Synathetic Aperture Radar (InSAR)

InSAR Methods

InSAR Results

Mojave River Ground-Water Basin

El Mirage Area

Lockhart-Harper Lake (Dry) Area

Newberry Springs Area

Morongo Ground-Water Basin--Lucerne Valley Area

Future Monitoring


References Cited

Document Accessibility: Adobe Systems Incorporated has information about PDFs and the visually impaired. This information provides tools to help make PDF files accessible. These tools convert Adobe PDF documents into HTML or ASCII text, which then can be read by a number of common screen-reading programs that synthesize text as audible speech. In addition, an accessible version of Acrobat Reader 5.0 for Windows (English only), which contains support for screen readers, is available. These tools and the accessible reader may be obtained free from Adobe at Adobe Access.


Water Resources of California

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Persistent URL:
Page Contact Information: GS Pubs Web Contact
Last modified: Thursday, September 01 2005, 02:23:18 PM
FirstGov button  Take Pride in America button