If you drive through Central California, it might be easy to forget the state is in the midst of a drought of historic proportions. Almond orchards and vineyards are green and full with crops awaiting harvest, and in cities green lawns still outnumber brown ones.
But a new set of satellite photos from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) program show just how much the Golden State is turning brown thanks to the drought. In a post on the NASA Earth Observatory website, scientists compare an image of California taken on July 2, 2014 with one taken June 24, 2011 just as the current dry conditions began.
Near the Pacific coast, some mountain forests are holding on, but much of area around the Coast Range has browned considerably. The green farmlands visible in the state’s Central Valley in 2011 are much less robust in 2014, with some lands dried out and many fields left fallow for lack of water. Just north of Yosemite National Park, the land is not only brown from drought; it is also scarred from the Rim Fire and other blazes in 2013.In the Sierra Nevada, the snow cover has decreased significantly, and what remains has a tan or gray tint from dust and soil. On April 1, 2014, California Department of Water Resources noted that snow-water content was just 32 percent of the historical average at a time when snow cover is usually at its yearly peak. By May 1, snow-water content was 18 percent of normal.
The photos are just one aspect of NASA's response to the drought. The agency is also working to document subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley due to the pumping of groundwater, and on a project to measure the water content in Sierra snowpack.