Improving Scenarios of Future Patterns of Urbanization, Climate Adaptation, and Landscape Change in the Southeast

Project Information

Ross Meentemeyer, Center for Geospatial Analytics, NC State University
Adam Terando, USGS Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center

Proposed Project Completion: December 2021

Implements Science Plan Theme: Impacts, Exposure

Cooperator: Georgina Sanchez, NC State University


Arguably the most direct, intense, and long-lasting modification that humans can make to a landscape is converting rural lands to urbanized areas. As human populations grow, the demand for urbanized areas will increase, and scientists can help natural resource managers plan for these changes by creating models that predict potential patterns of future urbanization. The Southeast U.S. is experiencing particularly rapid population growth, as a favorable winter climate has drawn millions to the region from other areas of the country over the past several decades. However, the Southeast is also at risk from the effects of climate change, particularly along its vast coastline, where over a quarter of the region’s population lives. Recent studies have called attention to the potential for flooding from sea-level rise to motivate residents to move from low-lying coastal areas to less risky inland locations at higher elevation. To date, no research has explicitly considered how the existing flow of people into the region will interact with the potentially increasing drive to move away from the coast.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service, and state fish and wildlife agency partners have requested that the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center provide updated urbanization and habitat change scenarios to meet regulatory obligations, as species status assessments and state wildlife action plans, and make facility management decisions. This project will build on prior efforts to develop more comprehensive scenarios of future urbanization patterns in the southeastern U.S. These scenarios will take into account two potentially counteracting phenomenon: 1) an increasing redistribution of people from coastal and low-lying areas as they become more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and 2) existing migration flows from other parts of the country into the Southeast, which also could change as the climate warms.

The resulting scenarios and maps of potential future urban change will allow natural resource decision makers to visualize and anticipate hotspots of urbanization and population movement across the Southeast in the coming decades. Information on the combined effects of urbanization and climate change can help inform management of the region’s wildlife, ecosystems, and habitats of concern. This project will support Secretarial Priority 1a by providing FWS and other Department of the Interior bureaus with the best available science on urbanization and habitat change for the Southeast region.