Water Resources Management

, Volume 25, Issue 9, pp 2241-2250

First online:

Relationships Between Satellite Observed Lit Area and Water Footprints

  • Naizhuo ZhaoAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, Texas State University-San Marcos Email author 
  • , Tilottama GhoshAffiliated withCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado at Boulder
  • , Nathan Allen CurritAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, Texas State University-San Marcos
  • , Christopher D. ElvidgeAffiliated withNational Geophysical Data Center, NOAA

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Global water resources are vulnerable to depletion due to the increasing demand of an ever-increasing human population. A country’s water footprint is a measure of the total volume of water needed to produce the goods and services consumed by the country, including water originating beyond its own borders. The water footprint can be a critical indicator of global water resource use, but its practical application is hindered by a lack of comparable data across national boundaries. The purpose of this article is to test the applicability of the nighttime imagery products produced by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS) for the assessment of the global water footprint. To accomplish this purpose, the average areal extent of nighttime lighting (lit area) is calculated from 1997 to 2001. Next, lit area is regressed on the total water footprint for each country, as indicated by the Water Footprint Network (WFN), to estimate that country’s total water footprint using nighttime imagery. Model residuals are analyzed at the national scale to understand the appropriateness of nighttime imagery for assessing water consumption. Results indicate strong positive correlations between lit area and total water footprint (TWF), domestic water withdrawal (DWW), and industrial water consumption (IWC) at the national scale. Overall, the analyses reveal that the rate of agricultural water consumption to total water footprint (AWCR) and population density can affect the precision of estimates when lit area is selected as a proxy to estimate water footprints.


Water footprint Nighttime satellite image Rate of agricultural water consumption to total water footprint (AWCR) Population density Gross domestic product (GDP)