Monitoring the groundwater storage (GWS) changes is crucial to the rational utilization of groundwater and to ecological restoration in the Loess Plateau of China, which is one of the regions with the most extreme ecological environmental damage in the world. In this region, the mass loss caused by coal mining can reach the level of billions of tons per year. For this reason, in this work, in addition to Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite gravity data and hydrological models, coal mining data were also used to monitor GWS variation in the Loess Plateau during the period of 2005–2014. The GWS changes results from different GRACE solutions, that is, the spherical harmonics (SH) solutions, mascon solutions, and Slepian solutions (which are the Slepian localization of SH solutions), were compared with in situ GWS changes, obtained from 136 groundwater observation wells, and the aim was to acquire the most robust GWS changes. The results showed that the GWS changes from mascon solutions (mascon-GWS) match best with in situ GWS changes, showing the highest correlation coefficient, lowest root mean square error (RMSE) values and nearest annual trend. Therefore, the Mascon-GWS changes are used for the spatial-temporal analysis of GWS changes. Based on which, the groundwater depletion rate of the Loess Plateau was −0.65 ± 0.07 cm/year from 2005–2014, with a more severe consumption rate occurring in its eastern region, reaching about −1.5 cm/year, which is several times greater than those of the other regions. Furthermore, the precipitation and coal mining data were used for analyzing the causes of the groundwater depletion: the results showed that seasonal changes in groundwater storage are closely related to rainfall, but the groundwater consumption is mainly due to human activities; coal mining in particular plays a major role in the serious groundwater consumption in eastern region of the study area. Our results will help in groundwater resource management, ecological restoration, and policy planning for coal mining and economic development.
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