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

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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.

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Correspondence to Shuhab D. Khan.

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Khan, S.D., Huang, Z. & Karacay, A. Study of ground subsidence in northwest Harris county using GPS, LiDAR, and InSAR techniques. Nat Hazards 73, 1143–1173 (2014).

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  • Subsidence
  • Uplift
  • Houston
  • Gulf coast
  • GPS
  • LiDAR
  • Salt tectonics