, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 45-65
Date: 26 Feb 2008

Assessing coastal vulnerability to climate change: comparing segmentation at global and regional scales

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Abstract

Recent concerns about potential climate-change effects on coastal systems require the application of vulnerability assessment tools in order to define suitable adaptation strategies and improve coastal zone management effectiveness. In fact, while various research efforts were devoted to evaluate coastal vulnerability to climate change on a national to global level, fewer applications were carried out so far to develop more comprehensive and site-specific vulnerability assessments suitable to plan possible adaptation measures at the regional scale. In this respect, specific indicators are needed to address climate-change-related issues for coastal zones and to identify vulnerable areas at the regional level. Two sets of coastal vulnerability indicators were selected, one for regional and one for global studies, respectively, concerning the same features of coastal systems, including topography and slope, geomorphological characteristics, presence and distribution of wetlands and vegetation cover, density of coastal population and number of coastal inhabitants. The proposed set of indicators for the regional scale was chosen taking into account the availability of environmental and territorial data for the whole coastal area of the Veneto region and was based on site-specific datasets characterized by a spatial resolution appropriate for a regional analysis. Moreover, a GIS-based segmentation procedure was applied to divide the coastline into linear segments, homogeneous in terms of vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise at the regional scale. This approach allowed to divide the Veneto shoreline into 140 segments with an average length of about 1 km, while the global scale approach identified four coastal segments with an average length of about 66 km. The performed comparison indicated how the more detailed approach adopted at the regional scale is essential to understand and manage the complexities of the specific study area. In fact, the 25-m DEM employed at the regional scale provided a more accurate differentiation of the coastal area's elevation and thus of coastal susceptibility to the inundation risks, compared to the 1-km DEM used at the global level. Moreover, at the regional level the use of a 1:20,000 geomorphological map allowed to differentiate the unique landform class detected at the global level (e.g., fluvial plain) in a variety of more detailed coastal typologies (e.g., open coast eroding sandy shores backed by bedrock) characterized by a different sensitivity to climate change and sea-level rise. Accordingly, the information provided by regional indicators can support decision-makers in improving the management of coastal resources by considering the potential impacts of climate change and in the definition of appropriate actions to reduce inundation risks, to avoid the potential loss of valuable wetlands and vegetation and to plan the nourishment of sandy beaches subject to erosion processes.