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Gravity variations foretell flood risk months in advance

Satellites can monitor saturated river basins to forecast disasters

9:53am, July 8, 2014

FLOOD WARNING  Gravity variations from the sodden Missouri River basin could have predicted this 2011 flood months in advance, scientists say.

Small gravitational tugs from waterlogged river basins could give scientists a big advantage in predicting devastating floods, researchers report July 6 in Nature Geoscience.

Hydrologist J.T. Reager and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine looked at data from GRACE, a duo of NASA satellites that detect small changes in Earth’s gravity. As a river basin soaks up water, the satellites record a stronger gravitational pull. Wetter ground is more liable to flood when hit by a surge of rain or snowmelt.

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