Sinking deltas due to human activities Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • The world’s population living on low-lying deltas is increasingly vulnerable to flooding, whether from intense rainfall, rivers or from hurricane-induced storm surges. High-resolution SRTM and MODIS satellite data along with geo-referenced historical map analysis allows quantification of the extent of low-lying delta areas and the role of humans in contributing to their vulnerability. Thirty-three major deltas collectively include ~26,000 km2 of area below local mean sea level and ~96,000 km2 of vulnerable area below 2 m a.s.l. The vulnerable areas may increase by 50% under projected 21st Century eustatic sea level rise, a conservative estimate given the current trends in the reduction in sedimentary deposits forming on the surface of these deltas. Analysis of river sediment load and delta topographical data show that these densely populated, intensively farmed landforms, that often host key economic structures, have been destabilized by human-induced accelerated sediment compaction from water, oil and gas mining, by reduction of incoming sediment from upstream dams and reservoirs, and from floodplain engineering.

publication date

  • October 2009