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Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally A new approach for identifying human communities at risk from climate and land use change

Director’s Choice
Flooded neighborhood
High streamflow and flooding associated with climate and land use change poses risks to vulnerable communities. (Courtesy photo by the North Carolina National Guard)


Identifying vulnerable human communities is critical for climate change planning and mitigation. To link projected streamflow with socioeconomic metrics, SRS scientists and cooperators used a risk matrix. The approach identified watersheds where human communities may be at high risk due to future changes in climate and land use.


Shifts in streamflow, due to future climate and land use change, may pose risks to nearby human communities. Projecting the spatial distribution and impacts of these risks requires consideration of biophysical and socioeconomic factors.

Models like the Soil and Water Assessment Tool can project spatial distributions of hydrologic risk due to shifting biophysical factors like climate and land use. However, such tools cannot account for socioeconomic factors. Socioeconomic factors influence a community’s capacity to adapt to future streamflow changes.

To address this limitation, SRS scientists and cooperators developed a risk matrix that integrated a social vulnerability index with future streamflow projections in response to land use and climate change. The matrix was used to classify high-risk subbasins in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River watershed in North Carolina.

Projections of future streamflow suggest large increases in extreme high flows. The increases occurred in middle and lower parts of the river basin. Socially vulnerable communities are distributed throughout.

The research identified several subbasins with vulnerable communities that are projected to experience future increases in streamflow due to climate and land use change. These results serve as a starting point for subsequent climate change adaptation planning.

Principal Investigator
James M. Vose, Project Leader
4855 - Center for Integrated Forest Science
Strategic Program Area
Water, Air, and Soil
Applying climate change risk management tools to integrate streamflow projections and social vulnerability
Research Partner
John Coulston (SRS)
External Partner
North Carolina State University