Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 75 ›› Issue (7): 1346-1358.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202007002

• Virtual Water Exploration • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Urban-and-rural virtual water trade of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau: Patterns and influencing factors

SUN Siao1(), WANG Jing2, QI Wei1   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. Department of Planning and Programming, Ministry of Water Resources, Beijing 100053, China
  • Received:2019-04-02 Revised:2020-04-27 Online:2020-07-25 Published:2020-09-25
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20040401);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41730645)


It is essentially important to protect water resources and water eco-environment in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Asian water tower. Understanding water transfers through the trade of different products and services (i.e. virtual water transfers) and their influencing factors between Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and external regions can aid in analyzing local water resources problems and making virtual water strategies. Based on the China multi-region input-output table in 2012, this study calculated the virtual water transferred between Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and other regions in China. The virtual water transfer network comprising urban and rural nodes was constructed. Influencing factors that determine net virtual water trade of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau with other regions were analyzed using the Logarithmic mean Divisia index method. The results indicated that Qinghai-Tibet Plateau delivered a total of 0.23 billion m3 net virtual water to other regions in China. It delivered net virtual water to Southwest, North, Central, East and South China, and received net virtual water from Northwest and Northeast China. Intensive virtual water transfers between urban and rural regions were found. In the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, production-based water footprint was higher in rural areas, whereas consumption-based water footprint was higher in urban areas due to high population density and consumption level. The node strength in rural areas of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was higher than that in urban areas. In the plateau, the products transferred to other regions were dominated by agricultural products, which led to 1.27 billion m3 of virtual water export. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau had a trade deficit with other regions, which resulted in 0.86 billion m3 of net virtual water export. Water use efficiency led to 0.18 billion m3 of virtual water export from the plateau. Water management policies were formulated towards sustainable water resources use. Irrigation water conservation needs to be implemented to reduce production-based agricultural water footprint, and urban inhabitants' consumption corresponding to a lower water footprint should be encouraged. In addition, net import of various products and water resources ecological compensation will be beneficial to water resources protection in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Key words: urban and rural virtual water trade, virtual water transfer network, water footprint, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Logarithmic mean Divisia index method