Social vulnerability projections improve sea-level rise risk assessments

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Jan 02, 2018
R. Dean Hardy and Mathew E. Hauer



Rising seas will impact millions of coastal residents in coming decades. The vulnerability of coastal populations exposed to inundation will be greater for some sub-populations due to differences in their socio-demographic characteristics. Many climate risk and vulnerability assessments, however, model current populations against future environments. We advance sea-level rise risk assessments by dynamically modeling environmental change and socio-demographic change. We project three scenarios of inundation exposure due to future sea-level rise in coastal Georgia from 2010 to 2050. We align the sea-level rise projections with five population projection scenarios of socially vulnerable sub-populations via the Hamilton-Perry method and the theory of demographic metabolism. Our combined fast sea-level rise and middle population scenarios project a near doubling of the population exposed, and a more than five-fold increase for those at risk (i.e., residing in a census tract with high social vulnerability) and most at risk (i.e., high social vulnerability and high exposure) compared to the same estimate based on 2010 population data. Of vulnerable sub-populations, women had the largest absolute increase in exposure for all scenario combinations. The Hispanic/Latinx population's exposure increased the largest proportionally under the fast and medium sea-level rise projections and elderly people's (65+) under the slow sea-level rise scenario. Our findings suggest that for coastal areas experiencing rapid growth (or declines) in more socially vulnerable sub-populations, estimates based on current population data are likely to underestimate (or overestimate) the proportion of such groups' risk to inundation from future sea-level rise.

Read the full article in Applied Geography. 


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