Coastal hazards

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Coastal Hazards are physical phenomena that expose a coastal area to risk of property damage, loss of life and environmental degradation. Rapid-onset hazards last over periods of minutes to several days and examples include major cyclones accompanied by high winds, waves and surges or tsunamis created by submarine earthquakes and landslides. Slow-onset hazards develop incrementally over longer time periods and examples include erosion and gradual inundation.[1]

Cockenzie Harbour in a gale – – 370232


Since early civilisation, coastal areas have been attractive settling grounds for human population as they provided abundant marine resources, fertile agricultural land and possibilities for trade and transport. This has led to high population densities and high levels of development in many coastal areas and this trend is continuing into the 21st century. At present, about 1,2 billion people live in coastal areas globally, and this number is predicted to increase to 1,8–5,2 billion by the 2080s due to a combination of population growth and coastal migration.[2] Along with this increase follows major investments in infrastructure and the build environment.

The characteristics of coastal environments, however, pose some great challenges to human habitation. Coastlines are highly dynamic natural systems that interact with terrestrial, marine and atmospheric processes and undergo continuous change in response to these processes. Over the years, human society has often failed to recognize the hazards related to these dynamics [3] and this has led to major disasters and societal disruption to various degrees. Even today, coastal development is often taking place with little regard to the hazards present in these environments, although climate change is likely to increase the general hazard levels.[4] Societal activities in coastal areas can also pose a hazard to the natural balance of coastal systems, thereby disrupting e.g. sensitive ecosystems and subsequently human livelihood.

Coastal hazard management has become an increasingly important aspect of coastal planning in order to improve the resilience of society to coastal hazards. Possible management options include hard engineering structures, soft protection measures, various accommodation approaches as well as a managed retreat from the coastline. For addressing coastal hazards, it is also important to have early warning systems and emergency management plans in place to be able to address sudden and potential disastrous hazards i.e. major flooding events. Events as the Hurricane Katrina affecting the southern USA in 2005 and the cyclone Nargis affecting Myanmar in 2008 provides clear examples of the importance of timely coastal hazard management.

Coastal environments of the USA[edit]

There are many different types of environments along the coasts of the United States with very diverse features that affect, influence, and mold the near-shore processes that are involved. Understanding these ecosystems and environments can further advance the mitigating techniques and policy-making efforts against natural and man-made coastal hazards in these vulnerable areas. The five most common types of coastal zones range from the northern ice-pushing, mountainous coastline of Alaska and Maine, the barrier island coasts facing the Atlantic, the steep, cliff-back headlands along the pacific coast, the marginal-sea type coastline of the Gulf region, and the coral reef coasts bordering Southern Florida and Hawaii.[5]

Ice-pushing/mountainous coastline

These coastal regions along the northernmost part of the nation were affected predominantly by, along with the rest of the Pacific Coast, continuous tectonic activity, forming a very long, irregular, ridged, steep and mostly mountainous coastline. These environments are heavily occupied with permafrost and glaciers, which are the two major conditions affecting Alaska's Coastal Development.[6]

Barrier island coastline

Barrier islands are a land form system that consists of fairly narrow strips of sand running parallel to the mainland and play a significant role in mitigating storm surges and oceans swells as natural storm events occur. The morphology of the various types and sizes of barrier islands depend on the wave energy, tidal range, basement controls, and sea level trends. The islands create multiple unique environments of wetland systems including marshes, estuaries, and lagoons.[7]

Steep, cliff-backing abrasion coastline

The coastline along the western part of the nation consists of very steep, cliffed rock formations generally with vegetative slopes descending down and a fringing beach below. The various sedimentary, metamorphic, and volcanic rock formations assembled along a tectonically disturbed environment, all with altering resistances running perpendicular, cause the ridged, extensive stretch of uplifted cliffs that form the peninsulas, lagoons, and valleys.[8]

Marginal-sea type coastline

The southern banks of the United States border the Gulf of Mexico, intersecting numerous rivers, forming many inlets bays, and lagoons along its coast, consisting of vast areas of marsh and wetlands. This region of landform is prone to natural disasters yet highly and continuously developed, with man-made structures attaining to water flow and control.[9]

Coral reef coastline

Coral reefs are located off the shores of the southern Florida and Hawaii consisting of rough and complex natural structures along the bottom of the ocean floor with extremely diverse ecosystems, absorbing up to ninety percent of the energy dissipated from wind-generated waves. This process is a significant buffer for the inner-lying coastlines, naturally protecting and minimizing the impact of storm surge and direct wave damage. Because of the highly diverse ecosystems, these coral reefs not only provide for the shoreline protection, but also deliver an abundant amount of services to fisheries and tourism, increasing its economic value.[10]

Causes of Coastal Hazards[edit]

Hurricane Surge

Natural VS Human disasters

The population that lives along or near our coastlines are an extremely vulnerable population. There are numerous issues facing our coastlines and there are two main categories that these hazards can be placed under, Natural disasters and Human disasters. Both of these issues cause great damage to our coastlines and discussion is still ongoing regarding what standards or responses need to be met to help both the individuals who want to continue living along the coastline, while keeping them safe and not eroding more coastline away. Natural disasters are disasters that are out of human control and are usually caused by the weather. Disasters that include but are not limited to; storms, tsunamis, typhoons, flooding, tides, waterspouts, nor'easters, and storm surge. Human disasters occur when humans are the main culprit behind why the disaster happened. Some human disasters are but are not limited to; pollution, trawling, and human development. Natural and human disasters continue to harm the coastlines severely and they need to be researched in order to prepare/stop the hazards if possible.[11]

The populations that live near or along the coast experience many hazards and it affects millions of people. Around ten million people globally feel the effects of coastal problems yearly and most are due to certain natural hazards like coastal flooding with storm surges and typhoons.[12] A major problem related to coastal regions deals with how the entire global environment is changing and in response, the coastal regions are easily affected.

Hurricane Diana

Storms, Flooding and Erosion

Storms are one of the major hazards that are associated to coastal regions. Storms, flooding, and erosion are closely associated and can happen simultaneously. Tropical storms or Hurricanes especially can devastate coastal regions. For example, Florida during Hurricane Andrew occurred in 1992 that caused extreme damage. It was a category five hurricane that caused $26.5 billion in damages and even 23 individuals lost their lives from the storm.[13] Hurricane Katrina also caused havoc along the coast to show the extreme force a hurricane can do in a certain region.[14] The Chennai Floods of 2015, which affected many people, is an example of flooding due to cyclones. People across the whole state of Tamil Nadu felt its impact and even parts of Andhra Pradesh got affected. There was a loss of Rs.900 crore and 280 people died. Many cyclones like this happen across Asia but the media reports only minor hurricanes which hit the United States.

 In almost all cases, storms are the major culprit that causes flooding and erosion.  Flash flooding is caused by storms that occurs when a massive amount of rainfall comes down into an area over a short period of time.  Where as a storm surge, which is closely related to tropical storms, is when the wind collects and pushes water towards low pressure or inland and can rise rapidly.[15]  It is an offshore rise of water and overall creates a higher sea level that rises and is pushed inland.  The amount of rise or fall of storm surge depends greatly on the amount and duration of wind and water in a specific location.  Also if it occurs during a high tide it can have an even greater effect on the coast.

Almost all storms with high wind and water cause erosion along the coast. Erosion occurs when but not limited to; along shore currents, tides, sea level rise and fall, and high winds. Larger amounts of erosion cause the coastline to erode away at a faster rate and can leave people homeless and leave less land to develop or keep for environmental reasons. Coastal erosion has been increasing over the past few years and it is still on the rise which makes it a major coastline hazard. In the United States, 45 percent of its coast line is along the Atlantic or Gulf coast and the erosion rate per year along the Gulf coast is at six feet a year. The average rate of erosion along the Atlantic is around two to three feet a year. Even with these findings, erosion rates in specific locations vary because of various environmental factors such as major storms that can cause major erosion upwards to 100 feet or more in only one day.[16]

Pollution, Trawling and Human Development

North Carolina Homes being taken by the Atlantic Ocean 08-23-2011

Pollution, trawling, and human development are major human disasters that affect coastal regions. There are two main categories related to pollution, point source pollution, and nonpoint source pollution. Point source pollution is when there is an exact location such as a pipeline or a body of water that leads into the rivers and oceans. Known dumping into the ocean is also another point source of pollution. Nonpoint source pollution would pertain more to fertilizer runoff, and industrial waste. Examples of pollution that affect the coastal regions are but are not limited to; fertilizer runoff, oil spills, and dumping of hazardous materials into the oceans. More human acts that hurt the coastline are as follows; waste discharge, fishing, dredging, mining, and drilling.[17] Oil spills are one of the most hazardous dangers towards coastal communities. They are hard to contain, difficult to clean up, and devastate everything. The fish, animals such as birds, the water, and especially the coastline near the spill. The most recent oil spill that had everybody concerned with oil spill was the BP oil spill.

Trawling hurts the normal ecosystems in the water around the coastline. It depletes all ecosystems on the ocean floor such as, flounder, shellfish, marsh etc.. It is simply a giant net that is drug across the ocean floor and destroys and catches anything in its path. Human development is one of the major problems when facing coastal hazards. The overall construction of buildings and houses on the coast line takes away the natural occurrences to handle the fluctuation in water and sea level rise. Building houses in pre-flood areas or high risk areas that are extremely vulnerable to flooding are major concerns towards human development in coastal regions. Having houses and buildings in areas that are known to have powerful storms that will create people to be in risk by living there. Also pertaining to barrier islands, where land is at risk for erosion but they still continue to build there anyway. More and more houses today are being taken by the ocean; look at picture above.

Coastal hazards & climate change

The predicted climate change is adding an extra risk factor to human settlement in coastal areas. Whereas the natural dynamics that shape our coastlines have been relatively stable and predictable over the last centuries, much more rapid change is now expected in processes as sea level rise, ocean temperature and acidity, tropical storm intensity and precipitation/runoff patterns.[18] The world's coastlines will respond to these changes in different ways and at different pace depending on their bio-geophysical characteristics, but generally society will have to recognize that past coastal trends cannot be directly projected into the future. Instead, it is necessary to consider how different coastal environments will respond to the predicted climate change and take the expected future hazards into account in the coastal planning processes.


National Flood Insurance Program

The National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP was instituted in 1968 and offers home owners in qualifying communities an opportunity to rebuild and recover after flooding events following the decision by insurance companies to discontinue providing flood insurance. This decision was made on behalf of the private insurers after continually high and widespread flood losses. The goals of this program are to not only better protect individuals from flood, but to reduce property losses, and reduce the total amount disbursed for flood loses by the government. Only communities which have adopted and implemented mitigation policies that are compliant with or exceed federal regulations. The regulatory policies reduce risk to life and property located within floodplains. The NFIP also comprehensively mapped domestic floodplains increasing public awareness of risk. The majority of structures were constructed after the mapping was completed and risk could be assessed. To reduce the cost to these owners, which constitute roughly 25% of the total policies the rates for insurance are subsidized.[19]

Coastal States Organization

The Coastal States Organization or COS was established in 1970 to represent 35 U.S. sub-federal governments on issues of coastal policies. CSO lobbies Congress on issues pertaining to Coastal Policy allowing states input on federal policy decisions. Funding, support, water quality, coastal hazards, and coastal zone management are the primary issues COS promotes. The strategic goals of COS are to provide information and assistance to members,evaluate and manage coastal needs, and secure long term funding for member states initiatives.[20]

Coastal Zone Management Act

In 1972 the Coastal Zone Management Act or CZMA works to streamline the policies which states create to a minimum federal standard for environmental protection. CZMA establishes the national policy for the development and implementation of regulatory programs for coastal land usage, which is supposed to be reflected in state legislation such as CAMA. CZMA also provides minimum building requirements to make the insurance provided through the NFIP less expensive for the government to operate by mitigating losses. Congress found that it was necessary to establish the minimum which programs should provide for. Each coastal state is required to have a program with 7 distinct parts: Identifying land uses,Identifying critical coastal areas, Management measures,Technical assistance, Public participation, Administrative coordination, State coastal zone boundary modification.[21][22]

The Coastal Area Management Act

The Coastal Area Management Act or CAMA is policy that was implemented by the state of North Carolina in 1974 to work in-tandem with the CZMA. It creates a cooperative program between the state and local governments. The State government operates in an advisory capacity and reviews decisions made by local government planners. The goal of this legislation was to create a management system capable of preserving the coastal environment, insure the preservation of land and water resources, balance the use of coastal resources and establish guidelines and standards for conservations, economic development, tourism, transportation, and the protection of common law.[23]

Management and planning[edit]

Due to the increasing urbanization along the coastlines, planning and management are essential to protecting the ecosystems and environment from depleting. Coastal management is becoming implemented more because of the movement of people to the shore and the hazards that come with the territory. Some of the hazards include movement of barrier islands, sea level rise, hurricanes, nor'easters, earthquakes, flooding, erosion, pollution and human development along the coast. The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) was created in 1972 because of the continued growth along the coast, this act introduced better management practices such as integrated coastal zone management, adaptive management and the use mitigation strategies when planning. According to the Coastal Zone Management Act, the objectives are to remain balanced to "preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation's coastal zone".[24] The development of the land can strongly affect the sea,[25] for example the engineering of structures versus non-structures and the effects of erosion along the shore.

Integrated coastal zone management

Integrated coastal zone management means the integration of all aspects of the coastal zone; this includes environmentally, socially, culturally politically and economically to meet a sustainable balance all around. Sustainability is the goal to allow development yet protect the environment in which we develop. Coastal zones are fragile and do not do well with change so it is important to acquire sustainable development. The integration from all views will entitle a holistic view for the best implementation and management of that country, region and local scales. The five types of integration[26] include integration among sectors, integration between land and water elements of the coastal zone, integration amount levels of government, integration between nations and integration among disciplines are all essential to meet the needs for implementation. Management practices include

  1. maintaining the functional integrity of the coastal resource systems,without disrupting the environment
  2. reducing resource-use conflicts, by making sure resources are used adequately and sustainably,
  3. maintaining the health of the environment, which means to protect the ecosystems and natural cycle,
  4. facilitating the progress of multisectoral development, which means allowing developers to develop within standards.[27]

These four management practices should be based on a bottom-up approach, meaning the approach starts from a local level which is more intimate to the specific environment of that area. After assessment from the local level, the state and federal input can be implemented. The bottom-up approach is key for protecting the local environments because there is a diversity of environments that have specific needs all over the world.

Adaptive management

Managing Coastal Hazards Chart

Adaptive management is another practice of development adaptation with the environment. Resources are the major factor when managing adaptively to a certain environment to accommodate all the needs of development and ecosystems. Strategies used must be flexible by either passive or active adaptive management include these key features:[28]

  • AIterative decision-making (evaluating results and adjusting actions on the basis of what has been learned)
  • Feedback between monitoring and decisions (learning process)
  • Explicit characterization of system uncertainty through multi-model inference (experimentation)
  • Embracing risk and uncertainty as a way of building understanding (trial and error)

To achieve adaptive management is testing the assumptions to achieve a desired outcome, such as trial and error, find the best known strategy then monitoring it to adapt to the environment, and learning the outcomes of success and failures of a project.


Relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC, Failure of groin to protect the coast

The purpose of mitigation is not only to minimize the loss of property damage, but minimize environmental damages due to development. To avoid impacts by not taking or limiting actions, to reduce or rectify impacts by rehabilitation or restoring the affected environments or instituting long-term maintenance operations and compensating for impacts by replacing or providing substitute environments for resources[29] Structural mitigation is the current solution to eroding beaches and movement of sand is the use of engineered structures along the coast have been short lived and are only an illusion of safety to the public that result in long term damage of the coastline. Structural management deals with the use of the following: groins which are man-made solution to longshore current movements up and down the coast. The use of groins are efficient to some extent yet cause erosion and sand build up further down the beaches. Bulkheads are man-made structures that help protect the homes built along the coast and other bodies of water that actually induce erosion in the long run. Jetties are structures built to protect sand movement into the inlets where boats for fishing and recreation move through. The use of nonstructural mitigation is the practice of using organic and soft structures for solutions to protect against coastal hazards. These include: artificial dunes, which are used to create dunes that have been either developed on or eroded. There needs to be at least two lines of dunes before any development can occur. Beach Nourishment is a major source of nonstructural mitigation to ensure that beaches are present for the communities and for the protection of the coastline. Vegetation is a key factor when protecting from erosion, specifically for to help stabilize dune erosion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schwartz, M. (2005) Encyclopaedia of Coastal Science, Springer.
  2. ^ IPCC, 2007:
  3. ^ Masselink & Hughes, Coastal processes & geomorphology, Arnold, 2003
  4. ^ IPCC, 2014:
  5. ^ Inman, Douglas L. "ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE IN THE COASTAL ZONE." Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. The National Academic Press. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. <>.
  6. ^ Bird, Eric C. "Chapter 1.1 Alaska". Encyclopedia of the World's Coastal Landforms. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. Print.
  7. ^ "BarrierIslnd." Smithsonian Marine Station (SMS) at Fort Pierce. Web. 30 April 2012. <>.
  8. ^ Collins, B., and N. Sitar. "Processes of Coastal Bluff Erosion in Weakly Lithified Sands, Pacifica, California, USA." Geomorphology 97.3–4 (2008): 483–501. Print.
  9. ^ Bird, Eric C. "Chapter 1.1 Alaska". Encyclopedia of the World's Coastal Landforms. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. Print.
  10. ^ Murray, John. "Coral Reefs". Nature 40.1030 (1889): 294. Print.
  11. ^ "Coastal hazards- natural," 2009
  12. ^ Adger, N., & Hughes, T.2005
  13. ^ Adger, N., & Hughes, T.2005
  14. ^ Burby, R. (n.d.). Hurricane katrina . Sage journals, Retrieved from
  15. ^ (2009). Coastal hazards- natural disasters. Ocean science and stewardship, Retrieved from
  16. ^ U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FEMA or Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2000). Significant losses from coastal erosion anticipated along u.s. coastlines. Retrieved from website: /news/newsrelease.fema?id=7708
  17. ^ Inman, D. (n.d.). Types of coastal zones: similarities and differences. Retrieved from
  18. ^ IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  19. ^ Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration. National Flood Insurance Program: Program Description. U.S. Government Press, August 1, 2002 Retrieved from website:
  20. ^ About COS. (2012). Retrieved from
  21. ^ (1972). 16 usc chapter 33 – coastal zone management. Retrieved from Cornell University Law School: http://Cornell/uscode/text/16/1452[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ U.S. Department of Commerece. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 as amended through Pub. L. No. 109-58, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (2011) Retrieved from website:
  23. ^ North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Division of Coastal Management. (1974). Article 7. coastal area management. part 1. organization and goals.. Retrieved from website: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-23. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  24. ^ National oceanic and atmospheric administration. (2011). Retrieved from
  25. ^ Clark, J. Coastal zone management handbook. Retrieved from of coastal hazards&ots=bwKAk06AoG&sig=b9_iBP7OykljD0qtF9BkJutiEUw
  26. ^ CICIN-SAIN, B. 1993. Sustainable Development and Integrated Coastal Management. Ocean and Coastal Management, 21, 11–43.
  27. ^ THIA-ENG, C. 1993. Essential Elements of Integrated Coastal Zone Management. Ocean and Coastal Management, 21, 81–108.
  28. ^ Elzinga, C.L., D. W. Salzer, J. W. Willoughby (1998). Measuring and Monitoring Plant Populations. Denver, CO: Bureau of Land Management. BLM Technical Reference 1730-1.
  29. ^ Race, Margret. , & Christie, Donna, (n.d.). Coastal zone development: Mitigation and decision-making. 6(4), 317–328. Retrieved from

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