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A Systems-level Framework for Understanding Sustainability and Resilience of the U.S. Food-Energy-Water Nexus

Vora, Nemi Chetanbhai (2019) A Systems-level Framework for Understanding Sustainability and Resilience of the U.S. Food-Energy-Water Nexus. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Global population growth, environmental change, and increasing urbanization are pressurizing already constrained resources such as food, energy, and water. Food, energy, and water systems are interconnected in myriad ways and require an integrated management approach (referred to as the FEW nexus) to avoid unintended consequences. This work focused on irrigation and phosphorus fertilizer as critical avenues to understand interdependencies between FEW systems in the United States (U.S.). Specifically, we focused on modeling and analyzing FEW systems through the lens of domestic food trade. Food trade networks represent pathways for displacing vast quantities of embodied environmental impacts associated with agriculture production. Therefore, quantifying the origin and destination of food flows and associated environmental impacts is central for understanding the sustainability and resiliency of the FEW nexus. Combining food trade data with information on water use, fertilizer application, irrigation energy expenses, and life cycle assessment methods, this work quantified embodied phosphorus fertilizer, irrigation water, energy, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food trade. Through a network theory approach, this work further characterized the network structure and its implications for the sustainability and resilience of the FEW systems. Finally, an optimization model was developed to assess the feasibility of rewiring the food trade network for enhancing the environmental sustainability of FEW systems. Results showed that the GHG emissions associated with irrigation are similar to emissions from the US cement industry. For
food trade networks, proximity to a trading partner is an important factor driving the trade with neighboring states trading more, but it could be a potential risk if these states depend on the same water source for agriculture. The findings of this work also highlight the challenges in restructuring trade to avoid tradeoffs between water and energy use. The results of the interstate phosphorus trade model revealed phosphorus fertilizer use savings with states using phosphorus fertilizer efficiently exporting to less efficient states. Finally, this work discussed challenges and opportunities in improving our current understanding of resource use in the U.S. agriculture.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Vora, Nemi Chetanbhainemi.vora1@gmail.comnev110000-0002-7359-6728
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKhanna,
Committee MemberBilec,
Committee MemberGilbertson,
Committee MemberProkopyev,
Committee MemberFath,
Date: 10 September 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 April 2019
Approval Date: 10 September 2019
Submission Date: 3 May 2019
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 215
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Swanson School of Engineering > Civil and Environmental Engineering
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: environmental engineering, food trade, water footprint, GHG emissions
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2019 19:08
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2021 05:15

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