Detection and Measurement of Land Subsidence Using Global Positioning System and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, Coachella Valley, California, 1996-98

By Michelle Sneed, Marti E. Ikehara, D.L. Galloway, and Falk Amelung



Water Resources Investigation Report 01-4193

Sacramento, California 2001

Prepared in cooperation with the COACHELLA VALLEY WATER DISTRICT
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Land subsidence associated with ground-water-level declines has been recognized as a potential problem in Coachella Valley, California. Since the early 1920s, ground water has been a major source of agricultural, municipal, and domestic supply in the valley, resulting in water-level declines as large as 15 meters (50 feet) through the late 1940s. In 1949, the importation of Colorado River water to the lower Coachella Valley began, resulting in a reduction in ground-water pumping and a recovery of water levels from the 1950s through the 1970s. Since the late 1970s, the demand for water in the valley has exceeded the deliveries of imported surface water, again resulting in increased pumping and ground-water-level declines.

The magnitude and temporal occurrence of land subsidence in the lower Coachella Valley are not well known; data are sparse and accuracy varies. Also, the area is tectonically active and has subsided during the past several million years, which further complicates interpretations of the data. Land-surface-elevation data have been collected by many agencies using various methods and different geographic scales; because of this, the -150 millimeters (-0.5 foot) of subsidence determined for the southern parts of the valley for 1930-96 may have a possible error of plus or minus (±)90 millimeters (±0.3 foot). The location, extent, and magnitude of vertical land-surface changes from 1996 to 1998 were determined using Global Positioning System (GPS) and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) methods. GPS measurements for 14 monuments in the lower Coachella Valley indicate that the vertical land-surface changes from 1996 to 1998 ranged from -13 to -67 millimeters ± 40 millimeters (-0.04 to -0.22 foot ±0.13 foot). Changes at seven of the monuments exceeded the measurement error of ±40 millimeters (±0.13 foot), which indicates that small amounts of land subsidence occurred at these monuments between 1996 and 1998. Some of the water levels measured in wells near several of these monuments during 1996-98 were the lowest water levels in the recorded histories of the wells. The possible relation between the stresses caused by historically low water levels and the measured vertical changes in land surface suggests that the preconsolidation stress of the aquifer system may have been exceeded during this period and that subsidence may be permanent. Comparisons of several paired monuments and wells indicated that the relation between short-term ground-water-level changes and vertical changes in land surface in the lower Coachella Valley is not clearly defined.

Results of InSAR measurements made between 1996 and 1998 indicate that vertical changes in land surface, ranging from about -20 to -70 millimeters ± 5-10 millimeters (-0.07 to -0.23 foot ± 0.02-0.03 foot), occurred in three areas of the Coachella Valley--near Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and Lake Cahuilla. The areas of subsidence near Palm Desert and Indian Wells coincide with areas of substantial ground-water production during 1996-98. The Coachella Valley Water District reported that they had no ground-water production wells in the Lake Cahuilla area but that there may be private production wells in the area. Production from these wells or possibly tectonic activity may be contributing to or causing the subsidence.

The geodetic network used for the GPS measurements described in this report covers the area from the Salton Sea on the south to just northwest of Indio. The maps processed using InSAR overlap the part of the geodetic network west of Coachella and north of Lake Cahuilla, and include the Palm Desert area. Both methods of measuring vertical land-surface changes, GPS and InSAR, were used to characterize vertical land-surface changes from the Palm Desert area to the Salton Sea. Because InSAR produces more spatially detailed data over large areas, it generally was useful where vertical land-surface changes were previously unrecognized, such as the Palm Desert and Indian Wells areas, which are north of the current (1998) geodetic network. Additionally, the detailed spatial resolution of InSAR-generated maps complement the coarse spatial resolution of the GPS network.




Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area


Mechanics of Pumping-Induced Land Subsidence

Global Positioning System (GPS) Surveys

GPS Methods

Land-Subsidence Monitoring Network

Determination of Ellipsoid Heights

1996 GPS Survey

1998 GPS Survey

GPS Results

Ground-Water Levels and Aquifer-System Deformation

Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR)

InSAR Methods

InSAR Results

Future Monitoring

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Water Resources of California

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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