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Linkages Among Water Vapor Flows, Food Production, and Terrestrial Ecosystem Services

Johan Rockström, Regional Land Management Unit
Line Gordon, Stockholm University
Carl Folke, Stockholm University
Malin Falkenmark, Swedish Natural Science Research Council
Maria Engwall


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Global freshwater assessments have not addressed the linkages among water vapor flows, agricultural food production, and terrestrial ecosystem services. We perform the first bottom-up estimate of continental water vapor flows, subdivided into the major terrestrial biomes, and arrive at a total continental water vapor flow of 70,000 km3/yr (ranging from 56,000 to 84,000 km3/yr). Of this flow, 90% is attributed to forests, including woodlands (40,000 km3/yr), wetlands (1400 km3/yr), grasslands (15,100 km3/yr), and croplands (6800 km3/yr). These terrestrial biomes sustain society with essential welfare-supporting ecosystem services, including food production. By analyzing the freshwater requirements of an increasing demand for food in the year 2025, we discover a critical trade-off between flows of water vapor for food production and for other welfare-supporting ecosystem services. To reduce the risk of unintentional welfare losses, this trade-off must become embedded in intentional ecohydrological landscape management.

Key words

catchment management, ecohydrological landscape, evapotranspiration, food production, freshwater management, global freshwater assessment, resilience, terrestrial ecosystem services, trade-offs, water use efficiency, water vapor flows.

Copyright © 1999 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087