Seasonal hydrological loading in the Great Lakes region detected by GNSS: A comparison with hydrological models

Liang Xue, Yuning Fu, Hilary R. Martens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Crustal deformation caused by hydrological processes has long been detected using space geodetic techniques, yet questions remain about the relative contributions of surface water and groundwater to the geodetic signals in different regions. Here, we investigate forward models of elastic loading deformation caused by a variety of water-storage changes within the Great Lakes region, including fluctuations in lake-water volume, soil moisture and snow load. We use lake-level data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, soil-moisture content from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS), snow load from the Snow Data Assimilation System (SNODAS) and background hydrological load at the global scale from Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). We compare the modelled surface deformation with estimates of hydrological loading deformation inferred from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) measurements. We find that seasonal deformation measured by GNSS is dominated by regional-scale hydrological loading based on strong correlations with the modelled loading displacements. The mean correlation coefficient for the study network is 0.56. The correlation coefficients vary spatially within the study region and exceed 0.9 at some stations near to the Great Lakes. We assess the relative contribution of each individual hydrological component to the total integrated hydrological load. We find that soil moisture consistently explains the largest percentage (27-69 per cent) of the total vertical loading deformation for 87 per cent of GNSS stations in the Great Lakes region. Snow loading and soil moisture contribute relatively equally in the northern reaches of the study area (e.g. Canadian shield, northern Superior basin). Lake loading accounts for about 10-25 per cent of the total loading signal in the immediate vicinity of the lakes. We also investigate the sensitivities of the surface loading displacements to three different Earth models, including two with lateral variations in structure. The structural variations considered here have limited impact (<0.2 mm) on the predicted hydrological loading displacements and could be neglected at the current level of observational precision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1174-1186
Number of pages13
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021


  • Hydrogeophysics
  • Loading of the Earth
  • North America
  • Transient deformation


Dive into the research topics of 'Seasonal hydrological loading in the Great Lakes region detected by GNSS: A comparison with hydrological models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this