Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Scientists have used a new machine learning model to predict the migration patterns likely to result from sea level rise along the coasts of the United States.
The study, the first to use machine learning to study sea-level rise displacement, showed rising seas won't just affect those on the coast, but also those farther inland living in flood-prone areas.
According to the simulations, detailed this week in the journal PLOS One, as many as 13 million people could be forced to relocate as a result of rising seas and increased flood risks by the end of the century.
The relocation of coastal communities will have a significant impact on inland communities, too. According to researchers, the addition of new residents will increase the competition for jobs, exacerbate roadway congestion and put added pressures on inland housing stock.
"Sea level rise will affect every county in the U.S., including inland areas," study co-author Bistra Dilkina, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Southern California, said in a news release. "We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea-level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not. This is a global impact issue."
Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas will see the largest influx of residents displaced by sea level rise, according to the machine learning model. Suburbs and small towns in the Midwest will also likely receive a disproportionate share of newcomers.
The model looked at what would happen to the U.S. coast should global warming continue unabated and sea levels rise several feet. The simulation combined flood models with population predictions, while the machine learning algorithm used the impacts of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita to predict future migration patterns.
"We talk about rising sea levels, but the effects go much further than those directly affected on the coasts," said Caleb Robinson, a visiting doctoral researcher from Georgia Tech advised by Dilkina and the study's first author. "We wanted to look not only at who would be displaced, but also where they would go."
Like previous studies that have looked at likely relocation destinations, the study found cities slightly farther inland would be immediately impacted. However, the model showed a surprising number of displaced residents from across the Southeast are likely to move to Austin, Dallas and Houston as sea levels rise.
Authors of the new study hope their findings will help policy makers and urban planners prepare for the effects of an influx of people on infrastructure, including added pressure on housing, transportation, hospitals and more.