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Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5211

Prepared in cooperation with the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District

Investigation of Land Subsidence in the Houston-Galveston Region of Texas By Using the Global Positioning System and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, 1993–2000

By Gerald W. Bawden, Michaela R. Johnson, Mark C. Kasmarek, Justin Brandt, and Clifton S. Middleton

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (41.3 MB)Abstract

Since the early 1900s, groundwater has been the primary source of municipal, industrial, and agricultural water supplies for the Houston-Galveston region, Texas. The region’s combination of hydrogeology and nearly century-long use of groundwater has resulted in one of the largest areas of subsidence in the United States; by 1979, as much as 3 meters (m) of subsidence had occurred, and approximately 8,300 square kilometers of land had subsided more than 0.3 m. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, used interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data obtained for four overlapping scenes from European remote sensing satellites ERS-1 and ERS-2 to analyze land subsidence in the Houston-Galveston region of Texas. The InSAR data were processed into 27 interferograms that delineate and quantify land-subsidence patterns and magnitudes. Contemporaneous data from the Global Positioning System (GPS) were reprocessed by the National Geodetic Survey and analyzed to support, verify, and provide temporal resolution to the InSAR investigation.

The interferograms show that the area of historical subsidence in downtown Houston along the Houston Ship Channel has stabilized and that recent subsidence occurs farther west and north of Galveston Bay. Three areas of recent subsidence were delineated along a broad arcuate (bow-shaped) feature from Spring, Tex., southwest to Cypress, Tex., and south to Sugar Land, Tex., with subsidence rates ranging from 15 millimeters per year (mm/yr) to greater than 60 mm/yr. Multiyear interferograms near Seabrook, Tex., within the historical subsidence area and nearby Galveston Bay, show several fringes of subsidence (approximately 85 millimeters from January 1996 to December 1997) in the area; however it is difficult to determine the subsidence magnitude near Seabrook because many of the InSAR fringes were truncated or ill-defined. Horizontal and vertical GPS data throughout the area support the InSAR measured subsidence rates and extent. The subsidence rates for a few GPS stations northwest of Houston began to decrease in 2007, which may indicate that subsidence may be decreasing in these areas.

First posted Oct. 26, 2012

For additional information contact:
Director, Texas Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
1505 Ferguson Lane
Austin, Texas 78754-4501

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Suggested citation:

Bawden, G.W., Johnson, M.R., Kasmarek, M.C., Brandt, Justin, and Middleton, C.S., 2012, Investigation of land subsidence in the Houston-Galveston region of Texas by using the Global Positioning System and interferometric synthetic aperture radar, 1993–2000: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5211, 88 p.





Subsidence in the Houston-Galveston Region, 1993–2000



References Cited

Appendix 1. Interferometic Synthetic Aperture Radar Processing and Error Analysis

Appendix 2. Global Positioning System Time-series for All GPS Stations with Least-Squares Linear-Regression Lines Depicting the Directional Velocity


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