Quantifying global agricultural water appropriation with data derived from earth observations

Citation:
Wu, B., F. Tian, M. Zhang, S. Piao, H. Zeng, W. Zhu, J. Liu, A. Elnashar, and Y. Lu, "Quantifying global agricultural water appropriation with data derived from earth observations", Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 358, pp. 131891, 2022.

Abstract:

Agricultural water appropriation has undergone rapid changes in recent decades, but estimates of global water appropriation have not been updated with the latest data and consistent methods. Documenting these changes is challenging given the heterogeneous water use landscape and the growing influence of human activities worldwide, and this complexity cannot be well addressed with the existing methodology, which is subject to large model uncertainties. Here, a spatial analysis and aggregated method was proposed to quantify and refine estimates of global agricultural water appropriation (GAWA) in terms of consumptive freshwater use, with data derived from Earth observations, independent of estimates from hydrological models. The results show the global water appropriation at the pixel scale, in agroecological zones and in the main water-consuming countries, including global maps of rainfed and irrigated cropland evapotranspiration (ET), net water consumption due to irrigation, natural ET and renewable freshwater resources (RFWR), and indicate that agriculture remains the largest user in terms of both water consumption and withdrawals worldwide, representing 87% of global water consumption, with approximately 60% of global freshwater withdrawals devoted to irrigation circa 2015. The percentage of withdrawals devoted to irrigation has decreased in recent decades when compared to the previous estimate of 70%. The results reveal the actual global crop consumptive use (8053.6 km3/yr) of blue and green water and the total human water consumption (8442 km3/yr), which represents the part of the water cycle affected by human intervention, mainly (95.4%) by agriculture. This study reveals that high-resolution irrigated croplands are essential for accurate estimations of water use appropriation and demonstrates that earth observation-derived data can provide a new understanding of global water use landscape. The study can support decision making in sustaining food and water security, and implementing water-adapted sustainable agricultural policies.

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