Coastal Economic Vulnerability Index
The northern Gulf of Mexico coast of the United States has been identified as highly vulnerable to sea-level rise (SLR), based on a combination of physical and societal factors. Vulnerability of human populations and infrastructure to projected increases in sea level is a critical area of uncertainty for communities in the extremely low-lying and flat northern gulf coastal zone. A rapidly growing population along some parts of the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline is further increasing the potential societal and economic impacts of projected SLR in the region, where observed relative rise rates range from 0.75 to 9.95 mm per year on the Gulf coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. A 1 m elevation threshold was chosen as an inclusive designation of the coastal zone vulnerable to relative SLR, because of uncertainty associated with SLR projections and because the vertical accuracy of the elevation data used in the analysis does not support analyzing SLR in increments smaller than 1 m.
This study applies a Coastal Economic Vulnerability Index (CEVI) to the northern Gulf of Mexico region, which includes both physical and economic factors that contribute to societal risk of impacts from rising sea level. The economic variables incorporated in the CEVI include human population, urban land cover, economic value of key types of infrastructure, and residential and commercial building values. The variables are standardized and combined to produce a quantitative index value for each 1 km coastal segment, highlighting areas where human populations and the built environment are most at risk. This information can be used by coastal managers as they allocate limited resources for ecosystem restoration, beach nourishment, and coastal-protection infrastructure. The study indicates a large amount of variability in index values along the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline, and highlights areas where long-term planning to enhance resiliency is particularly needed.
The Coastal Economic Vulnerability Index for the coast of the northern Gulf of Mexico. The index values are classified based on the standard deviations from the mean, with higher index values corresponding to higher vulnerability. U.S. Geological Survey image created by Cindy Thatcher.