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Groundwater Depletion Embedded in International Food TradeRecent hydrological modeling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation, but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately eleven per cent of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India alone. Our quantification of groundwater depletion embedded in the world's food trade is based on a combination of global, crop-specific estimates of non-renewable groundwater abstraction and international food trade data. A vast majority of the world's population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security. Some countries, such as the USA, Mexico, Iran and China, are particularly exposed to these risks because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers. Our results could help to improve the sustainability of global food production and groundwater resource management by identifying priority regions and agricultural products at risk as well as the end consumers of these products.
Document ID
Document Type
Accepted Manuscript (Version with final changes)
External Source(s)
Dalin, Carole
(University Coll. London, United Kingdom)
Wada, Yoshihide
(International Inst. for Applied Systems Analysis Laxenburg, Austria)
Kastner, Thomas
(Klagenfurt Univ. Austria)
Puma, Michael J.
(Columbia Univ. New York, NY, United States)
Date Acquired
April 11, 2017
Publication Date
March 29, 2017
Publication Information
Publication: Nature
Volume: 543
Issue: 7647
ISSN: 0028-0836
Subject Category
Earth Resources And Remote Sensing
Report/Patent Number
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
global food and water security
food trade
groundwater depletion
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