Science Help with Science Connections Snapshots Solid Earth Cryosphere Environmental & Hydrogeodesy Ocean Atmosphere Human Dimensions Technology

GPS can help monitor a sinking city

Researchers: Toby Burrough
and Jesse Ortega
Affiliation: University of Houston
Written by Celia Schiffman
1 September 2012


Subsidence, or sinking, is becoming a big issue for coastal towns that are also dealing with the threat of rising sea-level. A sinking city becomes more susceptible to flooding over time, and knowing the rate of subsidence can help a city prepare for future floods.

Monitoring Using GPS

Jersey Village, a town just northwest of Houston, Texas, is experiencing subsidence. In the past, the city has monitored the subsidence with campaign-style GPS, meaning that a few time a year, GPS units are placed in the same locations to see how much that particular point has moved. The drawbacks to this technique are that it can be difficult to see very small changes in subsidence, and the record of motion is not continuous.

Toby Burrough and colleagues at the University of Houston are improving the city’s method of monitoring subsidence with four permanent and continuous GPS units. Continuous GPS units are installed permanently in a location and make a measurement every 15 seconds, which is then averaged into a daily value. This will allow Burrough to see changes in the rates of subsidence over short time periods, as well as very small amounts of subsidence (less than a few millimeters).

Future Plans

Burrough plans on combining the GPS data with other information about water in the area, such as ground water movement and weather data, to see how these variables may affect subsidence.

Related Links


2012 UNAVCO Science Workshop abstract »


subsidence, Houston, sinking city, Jersey Village, continuous GPS

Map Center

30.031055426540206, -95.888671875

View Larger Map

Send questions or comments about this page to scienceunavco.org.


Last modified: 2019-12-24  02:24:31  America/Denver