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This is what drought looks like in the U.S. [map]

The Texas drought in 2011 has shattered records. New national groundwater maps from NASA show the extent of the crisis.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

If you haven't heard, Texas is in the midst of a record-breaking drought season.

(You may recall SmartPlanet's trip to Austin in October, when we met the phenomenon face to face.)

The drought has encouraged wildfires, ruined crops and reduced levels of groundwater to the lowest levels seen in more than 60 years.

New national maps produced by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center show just how dire the situation is. Large patches of eastern Texas indicate severely depressed groundwater levels, suggesting that sustained above-average precipitation is necessary just to recharge local aquifers.

The maps are based on data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, satellites, which detect small changes in Earth's gravity field caused by the redistribution of water on and beneath the land surface.

Scientists made the maps through the use of a sophisticated computer model that combines GRACE measurements of water storage with a long-term meteorological (precipitation, temperature, solar radiation, etc.) dataset. In other words, a far more detailed picture than merely estimating using on the ground measurements alone.

The lesson? Local officials -- as well as farmers, ranchers, and virtually any business-- have a tremendous crisis on their hands.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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