Yichu Wang, Xiabin Chen, Alistair G. L. Borthwick, Tianhong Li, Huaihan Liu, Shengfa Yang, Chunmiao Zheng, Jianhua Xu & Jinren Ni
Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 1553 (2020)
Sustainable inland waterways should meet the needs of navigation without compromising the health of riverine ecosystems. Here we propose a hierarchical model to describe sustainable development of the Golden Inland Waterways (GIWs) which are characterized by great bearing capacity and transport need. Based on datasets from 66 large rivers (basin area > 100,000 km2) worldwide, we identify 34 GIWs, mostly distributed in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, typically following a three-stage development path from the initial, through to the developing and on to the developed stage. For most GIWs, the exploitation ratio, defined as the ratio of actual to idealized bearing capacity, should be less than 80% due to ecological considerations. Combined with the indices of regional development, GIWs exploitation, and riverine ecosystem, we reveal the global diversity and evolution of GIWs’ sustainability from 2015 to 2050, which highlights the importance of river-specific strategies for waterway exploitation worldwide.