These NASA satellite images show utter devastation of water sources during California drought

To illustrate the severity of the worsening drought in California, NASA on Thursday released a series of satellite images showing the state’s rapidly disappearing snow caps and reservoirs.

The images, captured by the space agency’s Landsat 8 satellite over several years, compare recent images of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Oroville to those taken in 2019 – and the difference is dramatic.

“It’s crazy how much water seems to be lacking,” said Michael Carlowicz, editor-in-chief of NASA’s Earth Observatory, who posted the time-lapse images on its website.

A series of images shows the white snowpack of the Sierra Nevada being reduced to nothing. Another series shows Lake Oroville, one of California’s largest reservoirs, shrinking, developing sickly yellow rings. The phenomenon, Carlowicz said, is known among scientists as “tub rings.”

“If you look around the edges of the lake you have these tan bands – that’s the exposed shore,” he said.

In Lake Oroville and elsewhere in the state, dwindling reservoirs are one of the most visible signs of the worsening drought in the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom last week called on residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% and extended a drought emergency declaration to nearly every county in the Bay Area.

Melting snow from the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains and other high elevation ranges usually fill California reservoirs each spring, but water supplies are dwindling after two years of low rainfall.

Landsat 8, the satellite that took the images, circles the Earth twice a day and is equipped with a high-resolution camera known as the Operational Land Imager. The satellite produces images used by NASA and the US Geological Survey.

Nora Mishanec is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @NMishanec


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