Estimating Future Population is Integral to Evaluating Impacts in Future Climate Scenarios

In recent blogs, my colleagues discussed some exciting new climate change research, including a method to more accurately measure sea level rise impacts on coastal flood elevations and a screening tool that helps airports assess specific climate change risks. These articles highlight our focus on quantifying the risks associated with climate change.

In the quest to seek better measurements, we’ve turned to tools ordinarily reserved for the scientific research field. By applying these tools to practical situations, we’ve found a new way of estimating how future land use will impact the climate change landscape.

Anticipating Future Risk Means Projecting Future Populations

Identifying how coastal and riverine flood hazards will increase requires knowing where the people and infrastructure are located. This, however, leads to a more complex problem: we’re able to create future risk models based on today’s landscape, but how can we predict where the people and infrastructure will be tomorrow?

If the landscape that makes up the current baseline of climate change risk data changes based on population trends, how will future climate risks be impacted?


Using a New Tool to Project Future Risks

We employed a tool primarily used in the research community – the EPA’s Integrated Climate and Land Use Scenarios (ICLUS). A dataset that develops future population projections across the U.S. based on a range of economic development scenarios, ICLUS builds on census data and information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report. The projection includes population growth, migration, and immigration based on assumptions of worldwide economic development, trade, and technological advancement.

Using ICLUS and 2010 census data, we created population and housing unit estimates at five-year intervals through the end of the 21st century. A landmark use of this tool outside the realm of academia, these estimates enable us to quantify how many people could be impacted by increased flood hazards. By pairing the data with information on population density and watersheds, we’re also able to project future runoff.

Bridging The Gap between Future Climate Risk and Engineering Design

Integrating geospatial analysis with this data allows us to anticipate population growth and its impact on climate change events at the local levels. Paired with other approaches to flood flow projections, this new approach will help bridge the gap between future climate modeling and engineering design.

  • Siva Selvanathan
    Siva Selvanathan
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