Estimating Water Consumption of Potential Natural Vegetation on Global Dry Lands: Building an LCA Framework for Green Water Flows

This study aimed to provide a framework for assessing direct soil-water consumption, also termed green water in the literature, in life cycle assessment (LCA). This was an issue that LCA had not tackled before. The approach, which is applied during the life cycle inventory phase (LCI), consists of quantifying the net change in the evapo­(transpi)­ration of the production system compared to the natural reference situation. Potential natural vegetation (PNV) is used as the natural reference situation. In order to apply the method, we estimated PNV evapotranspiration adapted to local biogeographic conditions, on global dry lands, where soil-water consumption impacts can be critical. Values are reported at different spatial aggregation levels: 10-arcmin global grid, ecoregions (501 units), biomes (14 units), countries (124 units), continents, and a global average, to facilitate the assessment for different spatial information detail levels available in the LCI. The method is intended to be used in rain-fed agriculture and rainwater harvesting contexts, which includes direct soil moisture uptake by plants and rainwater harvested and then reused in production systems. The paper provides the necessary LCI method and data for further development of impact assessment models and characterization factors to evaluate the environmental effects of the net change in evapo­(transpi)­ration.