Mapping the Climate Change Future of the United States

The regions of the United States that have provided the most hospitable to human life and agriculture on the continent will likely be abandoned in a future altered by climate change, according to this interactive mapping project.

September 17, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


The residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana are some of the first Americans to experience the direct impacts of climate change, but they'll be joined by more people soon. | Karen Apricot / Flickr

Al Shaw, Abrahm Lustgarten, and Jeremy W. Goldsmith crunch data from a number of recent sources to map out the future of the United States as altered by climate change. "[T]he North American places where humans have lived for thousands of years will shift," according to the authors of the article to introduce the interactive map found at the source link. 

The project uses data from a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that maps out the shifting future of the human climate "niche," described here at "the regions where temperature and precipitation have been most suitable for humans to live in over the past 6,000 years." 

As a result of climate change, "the niche could shift drastically northward. Under even a moderate carbon emissions scenario (known as RCP 4.5), by 2070 much of the Southeast becomes less suitable and the niche shifts toward the Midwest."

Additional research by the Rhodium Group supplies the map's focus on rising temperatures in much of the United States. But there's a catch: "Heat alone, however, won’t determine Americans’ fate. A new climate analysis — presented for the first time here — projects how humidity and heat will collide to form 'wet bulb' temperatures that will disrupt the norms of daily existence."

The outcomes predicted here—including additional factors like sea-level rise, large wildfires, crop yields that will create a cascade of compounding calamities—are nothing short of catastrophic: "profound economic loss" and mass migration in the United States.

Another article by Abrahm Lustgarten supplements the mapping project by exploring in detail the likelihood of a climate migration in the United States within this century. A climate migration is a familiar theme in the news in recent weeks, as fires rage throughout the west and hurricanes stack up in the Atlanta Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 in ProPublica

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