Unveiling patterns in human dominated landscapes through mapping the mass of US built structures


Built structures increasingly dominate the Earth's landscapes; their surging mass is currently overtaking global biomass. We here assess built structures in the conterminous US by quantifying the mass of 14 stock-building materials in eight building types and nine types of mobility infrastructures. Our high-resolution maps reveal that built structures have become 2.6 times heavier than all plant biomass across the country and that most inhabited areas are mass-dominated by buildings or infrastructure. We analyze determinants of the material intensity and show that densely built settlements have substantially lower per-capita material stocks, while highest intensities are found in sparsely populated regions due to ubiquitous infrastructures. Out-migration aggravates already high intensities in rural areas as people leave while built structures remain - highlighting that quantifying the distribution of built-up mass at high resolution is an essential contribution to understanding the biophysical basis of societies, and to inform strategies to design more resource-efficient settlements and a sustainable circular economy.

Nat Commun
Patrick Hostert
Patrick Hostert
Principal Investigator