Increased Flood Exposure Due to Climate Change and Population Growth in the United States


Earth’s Future

Climate change 30.10.2020

In this paper we explore projected future changes to flood exposure due to anthropogenic climate change and population growth.

Precipitation extremes are increasing globally due to anthropogenic climate change.

However, there remains uncertainty regarding impacts upon flood occurrence and subsequent population exposure. Here, we quantify changes in population exposure to flood hazard across the contiguous United States. We combine simulations from a climate model large ensemble and a high-resolution hydrodynamic flood model—allowing us to directly assess changes across a wide range of extreme precipitation magnitudes and accumulation timescales. We report a mean increase in the 100-year precipitation event of ~20% (magnitude) and >200% (frequency) in a high warming scenario, yielding a ~30–127% increase in population exposure. We further find a nonlinear increase for the most intense precipitation events—suggesting accelerating societal impacts from historically rare or unprecedented precipitation events in the 21st century.