Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2021, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (2): 179-194.doi: 10.1007/s11442-021-1841-0

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Human’s digital footprints on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau: Variations during festivals and impacts on nature reserves

DU Yunyan1,2(), TU Wenna1,2, LIANG Fuyuan3, YI Jiawei1,2,*()   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environmental Information System, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Geographic Information Sciences, Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL61455, USA
  • Received:2020-03-22 Accepted:2020-09-10 Online:2021-02-25 Published:2021-04-25
  • Contact: YI Jiawei;
  • About author:Du Yunyan (1973-), PhD and Professor, specialized in spatio-temporal data mining.
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20040401);Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA19040501);National Key Research and Development Program of China(2017YFB0503605);National Key Research and Development Program of China(2017YFC1503003);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41901395)


Mobile internet and wireless communication technologies have produced unprecedented location-aware data. Such big geospatial data can be used as a proxy measure of the ‘digital footprints’ left by us on the planet and provide a valuable opportunity to understand the dynamic and short-term human disturbance on the nature at fine scales. This study investigated the spatiotemporal variations of human’s digital footprints on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau using smartphone-users-generated Tencent’s location request data. The results showed that human’s digital footprints cover less than 5% of Qinghai and Tibet, exhibiting either a U-shaped or an N-shaped temporal change pattern during the major festivals. Spatial changes of the digital footprints manifested a transition process from dispersion to concentration in Xining and Lhasa. Human disturbance assessment of seven large nature reserves on the plateau showed that the Qinghai Lake is the most disturbed one as shown by 14.6% of its area is stained with human digital footprints and the areal average of footprint intensity is 1.59, and the disturbance was significantly escalated during the National Day holiday. By contrast, the Qangtang and Hoh Xil are the least affected nature reserves with the two indices less than 1% and 0.1, respectively.

Key words: digital footprint, space-time variations, human impact, nature reserve, location request