Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have identified a statistical relationship between the growth of cities and the spread of paved surfaces like roads and sidewalks. These impervious surfaces impede the flow of water into the ground, affecting the water cycle and, by extension, the climate.
“We’ve shown that there is a specific mathematical shape to the relationship between a city's population and the total paved area,” ORNL’s Christa Brelsford said. “Using that, we examined climate model predictions and determined they correctly represent some important attributes we know about cities.”
Using expertise in urban scaling theory, hydrology and Earth system modeling, the scientists demonstrated this statistical rule can be used to evaluate climate model predictions, reducing uncertainty by constraining processes that capture human decision-making and its impacts.
Their published method can help improve the reliability of predictions of future environmental change.