Reconstruction of global gridded monthly sectoral water withdrawals for 1971-2010 and analysis of their spatiotemporal patterns

Zhongwei Huang, Mohamad Hejazi, Xinya Li, Qiuhong Tang, Chris Vernon, Guoyong Leng, Yaling Liu, Petra Döll, Stephanie Eisner, Dieter Gerten, Naota Hanasaki, Yoshihide Wada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Human water withdrawal has increasingly altered the global water cycle in past decades, yet our understanding of its driving forces and patterns is limited. Reported historical estimates of sectoral water withdrawals are often sparse and incomplete, mainly restricted to water withdrawal estimates available at annual and country scales, due to a lack of observations at seasonal and local scales. In this study, through collecting and consolidating various sources of reported data and developing spatial and temporal statistical downscaling algorithms, we reconstruct a global monthly gridded (0.5°) sectoral water withdrawal dataset for the period 1971-2010, which distinguishes six water use sectors, i.e., irrigation, domestic, electricity generation (cooling of thermal power plants), livestock, mining, and manufacturing. Based on the reconstructed dataset, the spatial and temporal patterns of historical water withdrawal are analyzed. Results show that total global water withdrawal has increased significantly during 1971-2010, mainly driven by the increase in irrigation water withdrawal. Regions with high water withdrawal are those densely populated or with large irrigated cropland production, e.g., the United States (US), eastern China, India, and Europe. Seasonally, irrigation water withdrawal in summer for the major crops contributes a large percentage of total annual irrigation water withdrawal in mid- and high-latitude regions, and the dominant season of irrigation water withdrawal is also different across regions. Domestic water withdrawal is mostly characterized by a summer peak, while water withdrawal for electricity generation has a winter peak in high-latitude regions and a summer peak in low-latitude regions. Despite the overall increasing trend, irrigation in the western US and domestic water withdrawal in western Europe exhibit a decreasing trend. Our results highlight the distinct spatial pattern of human water use by sectors at the seasonal and annual timescales. The reconstructed gridded water withdrawal dataset is open access, and can be used for examining issues related to water withdrawals at fine spatial, temporal, and sectoral scales.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2117-2133
Number of pages17
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 6 2018
Externally publishedYes


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