Natural Hazards

, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 1143–1173 | Cite as

Study of ground subsidence in northwest Harris county using GPS, LiDAR, and InSAR techniques

  • Shuhab D. KhanEmail author
  • Zheng Huang
  • Ayca Karacay
Original Paper


Subsidence has been affecting many cities around the world, such as Nagoya (Japan), Venice (Italy), San Joaquin Valley and Long Beach (California), and Houston (Texas). This phenomenon can be caused by natural processes and/or human activities, including but not limited to carbonate dissolution, extraction of material from mines, soil compaction, and fluid withdrawal. Surface deformation has been an ongoing problem in the Houston Metropolitan area because of the city’s location in a passive margin where faulting and subsidence are common. Most of the previous studies attributed the causes of the surface deformation to four major mechanisms: faulting, soil compaction, salt tectonics, and fluid withdrawal (groundwater withdrawal and hydrocarbon extraction). This work assessed the surface deformation in the greater Houston area and their possible relationship with fluid withdrawal. To achieve this goal, data from three complimentary remote sensing techniques Global Positioning System (GPS), Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar were used. GPS rates for the last 17 years show a change in surface deformation patterns. High rates of subsidence in the northwestern areas (up to ~4 cm/year) and signs of uplift in the southeast are observed (up to 2 mm\year). High rates of subsidence appear to be decreasing. Contrary to previous studies in which the location of subsidence appeared to be expanding toward the northwest, current results show that the area of subsidence is shrinking and migrating toward the northeast. Digital elevation model generated from airborne LiDAR, revealed changes between salt domes and their surrounding areas. The persistent scatterer interferometry was performed using twenty-five (25) European remote sensing-1/2 scenes. Rates of change in groundwater level and hydrocarbon production were calculated using data from 261 observation wells and 658 hydrocarbon wells. A water level decline of 4 m/year was found in area of highest subsidence, this area also show ~70 million m3/year of hydrocarbon extraction. This study found strong correlation between fluid withdrawals and subsidence. Therefore, both groundwater and hydrocarbon withdrawal in northwest Harris County are considered to be the major drivers of the surface deformation.


Subsidence Uplift Houston Gulf coast GPS LiDAR Salt tectonics 


  1. Ashford JB, Hopkins J (1995) Aquifers of Texas. Texas Water Development Board, AustinGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker ET (1979) Stratigraphic and hydrogeologic framework of part of the coastal plain of Texas. Texas Department of Water Resources Report 236, Texas Google Scholar
  3. Brace OL (1962) Bammel field. Typical oil and gas fields of Southeast Texas, pp 4–7Google Scholar
  4. Brandes C, Pollok L, Schmidt C, Wilde V, Winesmann J (2012) Basin modelling of a lignite-bearing salt rim syncline: insights into rim syncline evolution and salt diapirism in NW Germany. Basin Res 24:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Canada WR (1962) Hockley field. In: Typical oil and gas fields of Southeast Texas. Houston Geological Society, pp 76–79Google Scholar
  6. Chowdhury AH, Mace RE (2003) A groundwater availability model for the Gulf Coast Aquifer in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas—Numerical simulations through 2050. Texas: Texas Water Development BoardGoogle Scholar
  7. Chowdhury AH, Turco MJ (2006) Geology of the Gulf Coast Aquifer Texas. Retrieved 2012.
  8. Cockerhham KL (1957) Developments in Upper Gulf Coast of Texas in 1956. AAPG Bull 41(6):1181–1189Google Scholar
  9. Coplin L, Galloway DL (1999) Houston-Galveston, Texas: managing coastal subsidence. In: Galloway DL, Jones DR, Ingebritsen SE (eds) Land subsidence in the United States. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1182, S.l., pp 35–48Google Scholar
  10. Deussen A (1934) Oil-producing horizons of gulf coast in Texas and Louisiana. Am As Pet Geol Bull 18(4):500–518Google Scholar
  11. Deussen A, Lane LL (1926) Hockley salt dome, Harris County, Texas. In: Moore RC et al (eds) Geology of Salt Dome oil fields. American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, pp 570–599Google Scholar
  12. Dodge MM, Posey JS, (1981) Structural cross sections, Tertiary formations, Texas Gulf Coast. Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. 32 pls., 6-p, textGoogle Scholar
  13. Dokka RA, Sella GF, Dixon TH (2006) Tectonic control of subsidence and southward displacement of southeast Louisiana with respect to stable North America. Geophys Res Lett 33:L23308. doi: 10.1029/2006GL027250 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eby JB (1945) Geophysical history of south Houston salt dome and oil field, Harris County, Texas. Am As Pet Geol Bull 29(2):210–214Google Scholar
  15. Engelkemeir R (2008) Evaluating Houston area neotectonics using GIS and remote sensing techniques. PhD. dissertation, University of HoustonGoogle Scholar
  16. Engelkemeir R, Khan SD (2008) LiDAR mapping of faults in Houston, Texas, USA. Geosphere 4(1):170–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Engelkemeir RE, Khan SD, Burke K (2010) Surface deformation in Houston, Texas using GPS. Tectonophysics 490:47–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. European Space Agency (ESA) (2012) What is ERS? Retrieved December 2012, from ESA Earth Online:
  19. Ewing TE, Lopez RF (1991) Principal structural features, Gulf of Mexico Basin. In: Salvador A (ed) The Gulf of Mexico Basin. Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado, p plate 2Google Scholar
  20. Fowler P (1956) Faults and folds of South-Central Texas. Gulf Coast As Geol Soc Trans 6:37–42Google Scholar
  21. Gabrysch RK (1984) Case History No. 9.12. The Houston-Gavlestion Region, Texas, U.S.A. In: Poland JF (ed) Guidebook to studies in land subsidence due to ground-water withdrawal. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Chelsea, pp 253–262Google Scholar
  22. Ge H, Jackson MPA, Vendeville BC (1997) Kinematics and dynamics of salt tectonics driven by Progradation. Am As Pet Geol Bull 81(3):398–423Google Scholar
  23. Ghoddousi-Fard R, Dare P (2005) Online GPS processing services: an initial study. GPS Solut 9(3):12–20Google Scholar
  24. Halbouty MT (1979) Salt domes, gulf region, United States and Mexico, 2nd edn. Gulf Publishing Company, HoustonGoogle Scholar
  25. Hamman HR (1987) Cypress field. Typical oil and gas fields of Southeast Texas, p 2Google Scholar
  26. Hanna MA (1934) Geology of the Gulf Coast salt domes: Part IV. Relations of petroleum accumulation to structure. In: Wrather WE, Lahee FH (eds) Problems of petroleum geology. American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, pp 629–678Google Scholar
  27. Harris-Galveston Subsidence District (2012) Accessed March 2012
  28. Harvey CJ, Burkhead WZ (1939) Fairbanks and Satsuma Fields Harris County, Texas. AAPG Bull 23(5):686–698Google Scholar
  29. Holzer TL (1984) Ground failure induced by ground-water withdrawal from unconsolidated sediment. In: Holzer TL (ed) Man-induced land subsidence. Geological Society of America, Boulder, pp 67–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Holzer TL, Gabyrsch RK (1987) Effect of water-level recoveries on fault creep, Houston, Texas. Ground Water 25(4):392–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hosman RL (1996) Regional stratigraphy and subsurface geology of cenozoic deposits, gulf coastal plain, South-Central United States—Regional Aquifer System Analysis—Gulf Coastal Plain. U.S. Geological Survey, pp 35Google Scholar
  32. Hudec MR, Jackson MPA (2007) Terra infirma: understanding salt tectonics. Earth Sci Rev 82(1–2):1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hudec MR, Jackson MPA, Schultz-Ela DD (2009) The paradox of minibasin subsidence into salt: clues to the evolution of crustal basins. Geol Soc Am Bull 121(1/2):201–221Google Scholar
  34. Huffman AC, Kinney SA, Biewick LRH, Mitchell HR, Gunther GL (2004) Salt Diapirs in the Gulf Coast. U.S. Geological Survey, DS-90, version 1.0Google Scholar
  35. Jackson MPA, Seni SJ (1983) Geometry and evolution of salt structures in a marginal rift basin of the Gulf of Mexico, East Texas. Geology 11:131–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jackson MPA, Talbot CJ (1986) External shapes, strain rates, and dynamics of salt structures. Geol Soc Am Bull 97:305–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Jackson MPA, Vendeville BC (1994) Regional extension as a geologic trigger for diapirism. Geol Soc Am Bull 106(1):57–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jorgensen DG (1975) Analog-model studies of ground-water hydrology in the Houston District, Texas. U. S. Geological Society, Houston, TexasGoogle Scholar
  39. Kasmarek MC, Johnson MR, Ramage JK (2012) Water-level altitudes 2012 and water-level changes in the Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper Aquifers and Compaction 1973–2011 in the Chicot and Evangeline Aquifers, Houston–Galveston Region, Texas. Scientific Investigations Map 3230Google Scholar
  40. Khan SD (2005) Urban development and flooding in Houston Texas, inferences from remote sensing data using neural network technique. Environ Geol 47(8):1120–1127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Khan SD, Stewart RR, Otoum M, Chang L (2013) A geophysical investigation of the active Hockley Fault Sytem near Houston, Texas. Geophysics 78(4):B177–B185Google Scholar
  42. Kupfer DH (1974) Environment and intrusion of Gulf Coast salt and its probable relationship to plate tectonics. In: Fourth symposium on salt, Cleveland, Ohio. Northern Ohio Geological Society, pp 197–213Google Scholar
  43. Lopez JA (1995) Salt tectonism of the Gulf Coast Basin: New Orleans Geological Society, Louisiana, scale 1:1,560,000Google Scholar
  44. Mader GL, Weston ND, Morrison ML, Milbert DG (2003) The on-line positioning user service (OPUS). Prof Surv 23(5):26, 28, 30Google Scholar
  45. Martyn PF, Beery RF (1961) The Milton field, Harris County, Texas, produced before discovery. Houst Geol Soc Bull 3(10):19–20Google Scholar
  46. Minor HE (1925) Goose Creek oil field, Harris County, Texas. Am As Pet Geol 9:286–297Google Scholar
  47. Murray GE (1957) Geologic occurrence of hydrocarbons in gulf coastal province of the United States. Gulf Coast As Geol Soc Trans 7:253–299Google Scholar
  48. Norman C, Howe RG (2011) Impact of active faults on land-based engineered structures in the gulf coastal zone. AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, HoustonGoogle Scholar
  49. O’Neill MW, Van Siclen DC (1984) Activation of Gulf Coast faults by depressuring of aquifers and an engineering approach to sitting structures along their traces. Bull As Eng Geol 21(1):73–87Google Scholar
  50. Pittman DW (1994) Growth History and Structural Analysis of Sugarland Dome, Fort Bend County, Texas. Master Thesis, University of Houston, Houston, TexasGoogle Scholar
  51. Pratt WE, Johnson DW (1926) Local subsidence of the Goose Creek oil field. J Geol 34(7):577–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Salvador A (1987) Late Triassic-Jurassic paleogeography and origin of Gulf of Mexico basin. Am As Pet Geol Bull 71(4):419–451Google Scholar
  53. Salvador A (1991a) Introduction. In: Salvador A (ed) The Gulf of Mexico Basin. Geological Society of America, Boulder, pp 1–12Google Scholar
  54. Salvador A (1991b) Triassic-Jurassic. In: Salvador A (ed) The Gulf of Mexico Basin. Geological Society of America, Boulder, pp 131–180Google Scholar
  55. Shaw SD, Lanning-Rush J (2005) Principal Faults in the Houston, Texas, Metropolitan Area. U. S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 2874Google Scholar
  56. Sorensen K (1986) Rim syncline volume estimation and salt diapirism. Nature 319:23–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Teas LP (1935) Natural gas of Gulf Coast salt-dome area. In: Geology of Natural Gas. America Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, Oklahoma, pp 683–740Google Scholar
  58. Trusheim F (1960) Mechanism of salt migration in northern Germany. Am As Pet Geol 44(9):1519–1540Google Scholar
  59. U.S. Census Bureau (2010) U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Texas’ 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting. Accessed October 2011
  60. Verbeek ER, Clanton US (1978) Map showing faults in the southeastern Houston metropolitan area, Texas. U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report, pp 78–79Google Scholar
  61. Verbeek E, Ratzlaff K, Clanton U (1979) Faults in parts of north-central and western Houston metropolitan area, Texas. U.S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Field Studies Map, MF-1136Google Scholar
  62. Walper JL (1980) Tectonic evolution of the Gulf of Mexico. In: Pilger RH Jr (ed) The origin of the Gulf of Mexico and the early opening of the Central North Atlantic Ocean. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, pp 87–98Google Scholar
  63. White W, Morton R (1997) Wetland losses related to fault movement and hydrocarbon production, Southeast Texas. J Coastal Res 13(4):1305–1320Google Scholar
  64. Zilkoski D, Hall L, Mitchell G, Kammula V, Singh A, Chrismer W, Neighbors R (2003) The Harris-Galveston coastal subsidence district/national geodetic survey automated GPS Subsidence Monitoring Project. Proceedings of the U.S. Geological Survey Subsidence Interest Group Conference, OFR 03-308Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations