Exploring groundwater and soil water storage changes across the CONUS at 12.5 km resolution by a Bayesian integration of GRACE data into W3RA

Nooshin Mehrnegar*, Owen Jones, Michael B Singer, Maike Schumacher, Thomas Jagdhuber, Bridget R Scanlon, Ashraf Rateb, Ehsan Forootan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Climate variability and change along with anthropogenic water use have affected the (re)distribution of water storage and fluxes across the Contiguous United States (CONUS). Available hydrological models, however, do not represent recent changes in the water cycle. Therefore, in this study, a novel Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo-based Data Assimilation (MCMC-DA) approach is formulated to integrate Terrestrial Water Storage changes (TWSC) from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission into the W3RA water balance model. The benefit of this integration is its dynamic solution that uses GRACE TWSC to update W3RA's individual water storage estimates while rigorously accounting for uncertainties. It also down-scales GRACE data and provides groundwater and soil water storage changes at ~12.5 km resolution across the CONUS covering 2003–2017. Independent validations are performed against in-situ groundwater data (from USGS) and Climate Change Initiative (CCI) soil moisture products from the European Space Agency (ESA). Our results indicate that MCMC-DA introduces trends, which exist in GRACE TWSC, mostly to the groundwater storage and to a lesser extent to the soil water storage. Higher similarity is found between groundwater estimation of MCMC-DA and those of USGS in the southeastern CONUS. We also show a stronger linear trend in MCMC-DA soil water storage across the CONUS, compared to W3RA (changing from ±0.5 mm/yr to ±2 mm/yr), which is closer to independent estimates from the ESA CCI. MCMC-DA also improves the estimation of soil water storage in regions with high forest intensity, where ESA CCI and hydrological models have difficulties in capturing the soil-vegetation-atmosphere continuum. The representation of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-related variability in groundwater and soil water storage are found to be considerably improved after integrating GRACE TWSC with W3RA. This new hybrid approach shows promise for understanding the links between climate and the water balance over broad regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number143579
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Groundwater storage
  • Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC)
  • Soil water storage
  • W3RA


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