Detecting, quantifying, and projecting historical and future changes in land use and land cover (LULC) has emerged as a core research area for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Changes in LULC are important drivers of changes to biogeochemical cycles, the exchange of energy between the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, biodiversity, water quality, and climate change. To quantify the rates of recent historical LULC change, the USGS Land Cover Trends project recently completed a unique ecoregion-based assessment of late 20th century LULC change for the western United States. To characterize present LULC, the USGS and partners have created the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) for the years 1992, 2001, and 2006. Both Land Cover Trends and NLCD projects continue to evolve in an effort to better characterize historical and present LULC conditions and are the foundation of the data presented in this report.
Projecting future changes in LULC requires an understanding of the rates and patterns of change, the major driving forces, and the socioeconomic and biophysical determinants and capacities of regions. The data presented in this report is the result of an effort by USGS scientists to downscale the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) to ecoregions of the conterminous United States as part of the USGS Biological Carbon Sequestration Assessment. The USGS biological carbon assessment was mandated by Section 712 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. As part of the legislative mandate, the USGS is required to publish a methodology describing, in detail, the approach to be used for the assessment. The development of future LULC scenarios is described in chapter 3.2 and appendix A. Spatial modeling is described in chapter 3.3.2 and appendix B and in Sohl and others (2011). In this report, we briefly summarize the major components and methods used to downscale IPCC-SRES scenarios to ecoregions of the conterminous United States, followed by a description of the Marine West Coast Forests Ecoregion, and lastly a description of the data being published as part of this report.