25. February 2015 New Publication: Assessing population growth in low-elevation coastal zones and the 100-year flood plain

A global study by lead author Barbara Neumann from the Coastal Risks and Sea-Level Rise Research Group at Kiel University shows that the number of people living in low-lying coastal areas could more than double in the future, possibly reaching up to 1.4 billion by 2060. This new study confirms earlier findings on current coastal population distribution and sets a new baseline of future coastal population development, highlighting regions and countries with a high exposure to extreme sea levels.


Coastal areas are attractive environments for humans to settle for many reasons. They are in general more densely populated and exhibit higher rates of population growth than the coastal hinterland. At the same time, coastal zones are exposed to a range of coastal hazards, including sea-level rise and associated risks from more frequent extreme coastal flood events. As the observed trends of coastal population growth are assumed to continue into the future, this study investigated how coastal populations might develop in the future and be affected by sea-level rise by 2030 and 2060 against the baseline year 2000. The assessments were based on four different sea-level and socioeconomic scenarios and looked into future population changes in the low-elevation coastal zone, which is all coastal land below 10 m of elevation, and in the 100-year coastal flood plain.

As the results suggest, countries and regions most exposed to future sea-level rise and associated coastal flooding in terms of total population are to be found in Asia, while Eastern and Western Africa show highest rates of coastal population growth. On a global ranking, the number of people living in low-lying coastal areas - and of those exposed to flooding from 100-year storm surge events - was highest in China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Viet Nam, both now and in the future scenarios. In fact, these five countries comprise about half of the exposed population, globally. Overall, more than 80% of the exposed population lives in the less developed regions of the world.

Besides producing new baseline estimates of future coastal population and presenting a new approach to assessing coastal change at global scales, the study also builds ground for further analysis such as considering spatial dynamics of urbanization or addressing limitations and inconsistencies related to global data sets in this kind of analysis.

Original publication:
Neumann B, Vafeidis AT, Zimmermann J, Nicholls RJ (2015): Future Coastal Population Growth and Exposure to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding - A Global Assessment. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0118571. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118571,

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Barbara Neumann, neumann@geographie.uni-kiel.de