Letter | Published:

Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 321325 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Many sea-level rise (SLR) assessments focus on populations presently inhabiting vulnerable coastal communities1,2,3, but to date no studies have attempted to model the destinations of these potentially displaced persons. With millions of potential future migrants in heavily populated coastal communities, SLR scholarship focusing solely on coastal communities characterizes SLR as primarily a coastal issue, obscuring the potential impacts in landlocked communities created by SLR-induced displacement. Here I address this issue by merging projected populations at risk of SLR1 with migration systems simulations to project future destinations of SLR migrants in the United States. I find that unmitigated SLR is expected to reshape the US population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants—even after accounting for potential adaptation. These results provide the first glimpse of how climate change will reshape future population distributions and establish a new foundation for modelling potential migration destinations from climate stressors in an era of global environmental change.

  • Subscribe to Nature Climate Change for full access:

    $59

    Subscribe

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

References

  1. 1.

    , & Millions projected to be at risk from sea-level rise in the continental United States. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 691–695 (2016).

  2. 2.

    , & Carbon choices determine US cities committed to futures below sea level. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 13508–13513 (2015).

  3. 3.

    et al. Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century. Climatic Change 137, 245–260 (2016).

  4. 4.

    & Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise. Nature 531, 591–597 (2016).

  5. 5.

    & Global sea level linked to global temperature. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 21527–21532 (2009).

  6. 6.

    et al. The multimillennial sea-level commitment of global warming. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 13745–13750 (2013).

  7. 7.

    IPCC in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  8. 8.

    et al. Sea-level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4 °C world’ in the twenty-first century. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 161–181 (2011).

  9. 9.

    , , & Future coastal population growth and exposure to sea-level rise and coastal flooding—a global assessment. PLoS ONE 10, e0118571 (2015).

  10. 10.

    , , & Migration as adaptation. Nature 478, 447–449 (2011).

  11. 11.

    Can large-scale environmental migrations be predicted? Glob. Environ. Change 7, 41–61 (1997).

  12. 12.

    , & Heat stress increases long-term human migration in rural Pakistan. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 182–185 (2014).

  13. 13.

    Future demographic change and its interactions with migration and climate change. Glob. Environ. Change 215, 521–533 (2011).

  14. 14.

    & Loss of cultural world heritage and currently inhabited places to sea-level rise. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 034001 (2014).

  15. 15.

    & Understanding the demographic implications of climate change: estimates of localized population predictions under future scenarios of sea-level rise. Popul. Environ. 33, 28–54 (2011).

  16. 16.

    , , & International migration under the microscope. Science 352, 897–899 (2016).

  17. 17.

    Migration, Development and Environment (International Organization for Migration Geneva, 2008).

  18. 18.

    Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges Report No. 1107022657 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  19. 19.

    & Katrina in historical context: environment and migration in the US. Popul. Environ. 31, 3–19 (2010).

  20. 20.

    et al. An integrated conceptual framework for long-term social-ecological research. Front. Ecol. Environ. 9, 351–357 (2010).

  21. 21.

    , & Rainfall patterns and US migration from rural Mexico. Int. Migr. Rev. 47, 874–909 (2013).

  22. 22.

    & Hurricane Katrina: who stayed and why? Popul. Res. Policy Rev. 32, 803–824 (2013).

  23. 23.

    et al. Climate shocks and migration: an agent-based modeling approach. Popul. Environ. 38, 47–71 (2016).

  24. 24.

    & Island abandonment and sea-level rise: an historical analog from the Chesapeake Bay, USA. Glob. Environ. Change 16, 40–47 (2006).

  25. 25.

    Migrant destinations in an era of environmental change. Glob. Environ. Change 21, S50–S58 (2011).

  26. 26.

    SOI Tax Stats—County-to-County Migration Data Files (IRS, 2016);

  27. 27.

    Forecasting, Structural Time Series Models and the Kalman Filter (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990).

  28. 28.

    et al. Shifting perspectives on coastal impacts and adaptation. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 752–755 (2014).

  29. 29.

    et al. Joint effects of storm surge and sea-level rise on US Coasts: new economic estimates of impacts, adaptation, and benefits of mitigation policy. Climatic Change 129, 337–349 (2015).

  30. 30.

    , , & Adaptation responses to climate change differ between global megacities. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 584–588 (2016).

  31. 31.

    , & Successful adaptation to climate change across scales. Glob. Environ. Change 15, 77–86 (2005).

  32. 32.

    , , , & Migration, immobility and displacement outcomes following extreme events. Environ. Sci. Policy 27, S32–S43 (2013).

  33. 33.

    , , & Climate Change and Migration: A Modelling Approach. Adv. Glob. Change Res. 43, 179–201 (2011).

  34. 34.

    , & Migration and climate change: towards an integrated assessment of sensitivity. Environ. Plann. A 43, 431–450 (2011).

  35. 35.

    et al. The effect of environmental change on human migration. Glob. Environ. Change 21, S3–S11 (2011).

  36. 36.

    , , & Integrating household risk mitigation behavior in flood risk analysis: an agent-based model approach. Risk Anal. (2016).

  37. 37.

    , , & Flooded Cities (Centre for Economic Performance, LSE, 2016).

  38. 38.

    , , , & Characterizing dynamic spatial and temporal residential density patterns from 1940 to 1990 across the North Central United States. Landscape Urban Plan. 69, 183–199 (2004).

  39. 39.

    , & Sea-level rise and sub-county population projections in coastal Georgia. Popul. Environ. 37, 44–62 (2015).

  40. 40.

    , & The Indirect Estimation of Migration: Methods for Dealing with Irregular, Inadequate, and Missing Data Vol. 26 (Springer Science & Business Media, 2010).

  41. 41.

    & Measuring interstate migration flows—an origin-destination network based on Internal Revenue Service records. Environ. Plann. A 13, 1345–1360 (1981).

  42. 42.

    & Pandora’s box: the potential and peril of migration data from the American Community Survey. Intl Reg. Sci. Rev. 29, 231–246 (2006).

  43. 43.

    & Rural America in an urban society: changing spatial and social boundaries. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 37, 565–592 (2011).

  44. 44.

    & Historically grounded spatial population projections for the continental United States. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 044021 (2013).

  45. 45.

    , & Migration systems in Europe: evidence from harmonized flow data. Demography 49, 1307–1333 (2012).

  46. 46.

    Networks, linkages, and migration systems. Int. Migr. Rev. 23, 671–680 (1989).

  47. 47.

    , & Recovery migration to the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: a migration systems approach. Popul. Environ. 35, 305–322 (2014).

  48. 48.

    et al. An evaluation of international migration theory–the North-American case. Popul. Dev. Rev. 20, 699–751 (1994).

  49. 49.

    Theory of Migration. Demography 3, 47–57 (1966).

  50. 50.

    Cohort and period effects in US migration: how demographic and economic cycles influence the migration schedule. Ann. Assoc. Am. Geograph. 89, 439–450 (1997).

  51. 51.

    Migration networks and migration decision-making. J. Ethn. Migr. Stud. 34, 585–605 (2008).

  52. 52.

    & Natural disasters and local demographic change in the United States. Popul. Environ. 34, 293–312 (2013).

  53. 53.

    & Environmental influences on human migration in rural Ecuador. Demography 50, 1217–1241 (2013).

  54. 54.

    & Bayesian Forecasting Dynamic Models (Springer, 1999).

  55. 55.

    & Does environmental degradation influence migration? Emigration to developed countries in the late 1980s and 1990s. Soc. Sci. Quart. 90, 461–479 (2009).

  56. 56.

    , & Linkages among climate change, crop yields and Mexico–US cross-border migration. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 14257–14262 (2010).

  57. 57.

    et al. World population stabilization unlikely this century. Science 346, 234–237 (2014).

  58. 58.

    , & Precision, bias, and uncertainty for state population forecasts: an exploratory analysis of time series models. Popul. Res. Policy Rev. 26, 347–369 (2007).

  59. 59.

    & A new short-term county population projection method. J. Econ. Soc. Meas. 20, 25–50 (1994).

  60. 60.

    & Emerging Techniques in Applied Demography 93–117 (Springer, 2015).

  61. 61.

    Sea Level Rise Induced Migration could Reshape the Population Landscape (Inter-university Consortium of Political and Social Research, 2017);

Download references

Acknowledgements

I am grateful for the constructive comments from J. M. Byars, S. Holloway, J. M. Shepherd, J. Evans, J. S. Pippin and J. Véron.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Geography, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA

    • Mathew E. Hauer

Authors

  1. Search for Mathew E. Hauer in:

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mathew E. Hauer.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Table 1

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3271

Rights and permissions

To obtain permission to re-use content from this article visit RightsLink.