Uncertainty in the difference between maps of future land change scenarios
It is essential to measure whether maps of various scenarios of future land change are meaningfully different, because differences among such maps serve to inform land management. This paper compares the output maps of different scenarios of future land change in a manner that contrasts two different approaches to account for the uncertainty of the simulated projections. The simpler approach interprets the scenario storyline concerning the quantity of each land change transition as assumption, and then considers the range of possibilities concerning the value added by a simulation model that specifies the spatial allocation of land change. The more complex approach estimates the uncertainty of future land maps based on a validation measurement with historic data. The technique is illustrated by a case study that compares two scenarios of future land change in the Plum Island Ecosystems of northeastern Massachusetts, in the United States. Results show that if the model simulates only the spatial allocation of the land changes given the assumed quantity of each transition, then there is a clearly bounded range for the difference between the raw scenario maps; but if the uncertainties are estimated by validation, then the uncertainties can be so great that the output maps do not show meaningful differences. We discuss the implications of these results for a future research agenda of land change modeling. We conclude that a productive approach is to use the simpler method to distinguish clearly between variations in the scenario maps that are due to scenario assumptions versus variations due to the simulation model.