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Weighing Rain

October 5, 2018

Scientists use satellites to weigh stormwaters.



Weighing rain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Rain gauges can tell us how much rain fell in one place, but how do we tell how much water fell from a storm like Hurricane Harvey over all of Houston? Well, scientists now have the ability to weigh it, using GPS satellites. NASA Jet Propulsion Lab geologist Chris Milliner says Earth’s bedrock is springy, like a bed.

MILLINER (Jet Propulsion Lab):

So you can think about the effects of Harvey’s stormwater on Earth’s surface as if you were to sit down on a mattress.


In the journal Science Advances, he and his colleagues describe using GPS stations drilled into the bedrock to measure precisely how far down the water pushed the rock.


And so we can then back out and calculate “what was the weight of that water that caused the observed depression in Earth’s crust?”


The technology will allow scientists to track water movements during storms and forecast floods. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon