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Assessing the global warming potential of human settlement expansion in a mesic temperate landscape from 2005 to 2050

Reinmann, Andrew B., Hutyra, Lucy R., Trlica, Andrew, Olofsson, Pontus
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.545-546 pp. 512-524
United States Environmental Protection Agency, carbon sequestration, carbon sinks, climate, data collection, emissions, forests, fossil fuels, global warming, human settlements, land cover, land use, landscapes, models, Massachusetts
Expansion of human settlements is an important driver of global environmental change that causes land use and land cover change (LULCC) and alters the biophysical nature of the landscape and climate. We use the state of Massachusetts, United States (U.S.) to present a novel approach to quantifying the effects of projected expansion of human settlements on the biophysical nature of the landscape. We integrate nationally available datasets with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Climate and Land Use Scenarios model to model albedo and C storage and uptake by forests and vegetation within human settlements. Our results indicate a 4.4 to 14% decline in forest cover and a 35 to 40% increase in developed land between 2005 and 2050, with large spatial variability. LULCC is projected to reduce rates of forest C sequestration, but our results suggest that vegetation within human settlements has the potential to offset a substantial proportion of the decline in the forest C sink and may comprise up to 35% of the terrestrial C sink by 2050. Changes in albedo and terrestrial C fluxes are expected to result in a global warming potential (GWP) of +0.13MgCO2–C-equivalenceha−1year−1 under the baseline trajectory, which is equivalent to 17% of the projected increase in fossil fuel emissions. Changes in terrestrial C fluxes are generally the most important driver of the increase in GWP, but albedo change becomes an increasingly important component where housing densities are higher. Expansion of human settlements is the new face of LULCC and our results indicate that when quantifying the biophysical response it is essential to consider C uptake by vegetation within human settlements and the spatial variability in the influence of C fluxes and albedo on changes in GWP.