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Zhao, N., & Samson, E. L. (2012). Estimation of virtual water contained in international trade products using nighttime imagery. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 18, 243–250.
Abstract: Freshwater that is consumed in the process of producing a commodity is called virtual water â it represents all water use contained in that commodity. In social systems, water resources can flow when commodities are traded from one region to another. Quantitative monitoring and assessing virtual water flow related to international trade products is an important issue to comprehensively understand the balance of global water resources. In this study we tested the potential of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program's Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS) nighttime images in conjunction with the LandScan population dataset for estimation of virtual water contained in international trade products. Lit area (areal extent of night lights) and urban population were selected as proxies to estimate export virtual water (EVW), import virtual water (IVW), and traded virtual water (TVW) (summed EVW and IVW), respectively, on the national level. The results showed that IVW can be more accurately estimated than EVW regardless of lit area or urban population. Lit area is normally more appropriate for estimation of the virtual water of developed countries than those of developing countries, but urban population is more appropriate for estimation of the virtual water of developing countries than those of developed countries. Urban population is a better proxy than total population for estimations of virtual water. This study makes a negative finding in that there are relatively large underestimations for developed countries. Another negative finding is that neither lit area nor urban population can be used to estimate net import virtual water (NIVW).