A global analysis of human settlement in coastal zones

Publication Type  Journal Article
Year of Publication  2003
Authors  Small, C.; Nicholls, R. J.
Journal Title  Journal of Coastal Research
Volume  19
Issue  3
Pages  584-599
Journal Date  Sum
ISBN Number  0749-0208
Accession Number  ISI:000184814000010
Key Words  coastal population; coastal hazards; exposure; vulnerability; sea-level rise; human-population; climate-change
Abstract  

Recent improvements in mapping of global population distribution makes it possible to estimate the number and distribution of people near coasts with greater accuracy than previously possible, and hence consider the potential exposure of these populations to coastal hazards. In this paper, we combine the updated Gridded Population of the World (GPW2) population distribution estimate for 1990 and lighted settlement imagery with a global digital elevation model (DEM) and a high resolution vector coastline. This produces bivariate distributions of population, lighted settlements and land area as functions of elevation and coastal proximity. The near-coastal population within 100 km of a shoreline and 100 m of sea level was estimated as 1.2 X 10(9) people with average densities nearly 3 times higher than the global average density. Within the near coastal-zone, the average population density diminishes more rapidly with elevation than with distance, while the opposite is true of lighted settlements. Lighted settlements are concentrated within 5 km of coastlines worldwide, whereas average population densities are higher at elevations below 20 m throughout the 100 km width of the near-coastal zone. Presently most of the near-coastal population live in relatively densely-populated rural areas and small to medium cities, rather than in large cities. A range of improvements are required to define a better baseline and scenarios for policy analysis. Improving the resolution of the underlying population data is a priority.

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