The Gravity of Water
Two ranchers walk across the plains of drought-stricken West Texas in July 2011.
Author: Holli Riebeek
Date: September 12, 2012

After a year without much rain, it was no surprise that the drought lingered below the land’s surface. “Groundwater takes a long time to be depleted, but it takes a long time to be recharged as well,” says Wardlow, a remote sensing specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. From experience, he expected regional groundwater supplies to be diminished. But this time he could see it in greater detail than traditional well measurements had ever provided.

Observing the water buried beneath layers of soil and rock was no small thing. When the twin satellites known as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, were launched in March 2002, few hydrologists believed they could see—no less measure—changes in groundwater. But at least two scientists did:

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