U.S. State-level Projections of the Spatial Distribution of Population Consistent with Shared Socioeconomic Pathways

Hamidreza Zoraghein and Brian C. O’Neill

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/su12083374

Abstract: Spatial population distribution is an important determinant of both drivers of regional environmental change and exposure and vulnerability to it. Spatial projections of population must account for changes in aggregate population, urbanization, and spatial patterns of development, while accounting for uncertainty in each. While an increasing number of projections exist, those carried out at relatively high resolution that account for subnational heterogeneity and can be tailored to represent alternative scenarios of future development are rare. We draw on state-level population projections for the US and a gravity-style spatial downscaling model to design and produce new spatial projections for the U.S. at 1 km resolution consistent with a subset of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), scenarios of societal change widely used in integrated analyses of global and regional change. We find that the projections successfully capture intended alternative development patterns described in the SSPs, from sprawl to concentrated development and mixed outcomes. Our projected spatial patterns differ more strongly across scenarios than in existing projections, capturing a wider range of the relevant uncertainty introduced by the distinct scenarios. These projections provide an improved basis for integrated environmental analysis that considers uncertainty in demographic outcomes.

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