Spotlight on Ph.D. student Amber Kuss

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The NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites. They fly in twin polar orbits and monitor changes in the Earth's gravitational anomaies, which ca be used to estimate total water storage anomalies.
GRACE total water storage anomalies for the United States in November of 2008. Reds indicate negative anomalies and greens indicate positive anomalies. These data can be used in conjunction with other datasets.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Amber Jean Kuss, M.Sc.

Amber Jean Kuss is currently a graduate student in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz working with Dr. Brent Haddad. Amber comes to UCSC from San Francisco State University (SFSU) where she received a master’s degree in Geosciences. Her research at SFSU focused on the effects of climate variability on groundwater availability and recharge throughout the United States.

Ms. Kuss currently works at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California as the Center lead for the DEVELOP National Program.  DEVELOP is a capacity building program, funded through Applied Sciences, in which student interns use NASA data to study pressing environmental and social issues in collaboration with state and federal agencies. The students at NASA Ames have worked on a variety of projects that investigate a range of environmental issues related to air quality, forest disturbance, ecological forecasting, wetland restoration, to water resource availability. The results of each study are provided to the project’s partner agency for the continued use of NASA satellite data to assist in management decisions.

The NASA Applied Sciences Water Resources Application Area addresses concerns of water availability, water forecasting, and water quality. The goal of the Applied Sciences Division is to use NASA data to inform and improve the decision support tools that federal, private, academic, and international organizations use to address key issues about global climate change.

Groundwater Availability Study

A recent three-term collaborative project, with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), at DEVELOP, involved the estimation of groundwater availability in the Central Valley aquifer. The Central Valley aquifer is a vital economic and environmental resource for California and the United States. Recent declines in groundwater availability, due to overdraft, threaten the sustainability of this system. In order to provide DWR with additional means for estimating water availability, the project used the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) sensor.  GRACE measures gravitational anomalies over the Earth’s surface and converts observed variations into monthly total water storage (TWS) anomalies. Groundwater anomalies were estimates from 2004-2009 by subtracting additional datasets of soil moisture, surface water, and snowpack from the TWS anomalies observed from GRACE. These data were then compared with DWR’s C2VSim groundwater model for the Sacramento and San Joaquin hydrologic regions, and the entire Central Valley. Groundwater storage estimates were comparable for both methods, with declines of -20.6 ± 3.01 km3 and -20.7 ± 7.57 km3, for C2VSim and GRACE, respectively. While this project is useful for larger aquifer systems, such as the Central Valley, further research aims to downscale GRACE data to the sub-basin scale for improved water resource management techniques.

Amber plans to continue her efforts of integrating NASA satellite technology into water resource management decisions for federal, state, and regional agencies. In particular, Amber is interest in exploring how the coupling of remotely sensed data with surface and groundwater models can be used to inform water management decisions under conditions of climate variability and change.