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, 10 (1), 4844

New Elevation Data Triple Estimates of Global Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding


New Elevation Data Triple Estimates of Global Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding

Scott A Kulp et al. Nat Commun.

Erratum in


Most estimates of global mean sea-level rise this century fall below 2 m. This quantity is comparable to the positive vertical bias of the principle digital elevation model (DEM) used to assess global and national population exposures to extreme coastal water levels, NASA's SRTM. CoastalDEM is a new DEM utilizing neural networks to reduce SRTM error. Here we show - employing CoastalDEM-that 190 M people (150-250 M, 90% CI) currently occupy global land below projected high tide lines for 2100 under low carbon emissions, up from 110 M today, for a median increase of 80 M. These figures triple SRTM-based values. Under high emissions, CoastalDEM indicates up to 630 M people live on land below projected annual flood levels for 2100, and up to 340 M for mid-century, versus roughly 250 M at present. We estimate one billion people now occupy land less than 10 m above current high tide lines, including 250 M below 1 m.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Permanent inundation surfaces predicted by CoastalDEM and SRTM given the median K17/RCP 8.5/2100 sea-level projection. Locations include (a) the Pearl River Delta, China; (b) Bangladesh; (c) Jakarta, Indonesia; and (d) Bangkok, Thailand. Low-lying areas isolated from the ocean are removed from the inundation surface using connected components analysis. Current water bodies are derived from the SRTM Water Body Dataset. Gray areas represent dry land. Axis labels denote latitude and longitude
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Total populations on vulnerable land. a Current population on land below projected mean higher high water level in 2100 assuming intermediate carbon emissions (RCP 4.5) and relatively stable Antarctic ice sheets (sea level model K14). Estimates based on CoastalDEM. b Factor by which CoastalDEM increases estimates of people on vulnerable land over SRTM in each country under K14/RCP 4.5. Countries wholly north of 60 degrees N are excluded because CoastalDEM is undefined at those latitudes. Source data are provided as a Source Data file. National boundaries based on public domain vector map data by Natural Earth (
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
CoastalDEM versus SRTM by country. Each point represents a country, and its position corresponds to estimated total current population on land below the projected mean higher-high water level in 2100 (K14/RCP 4.5) using CoastalDEM (y-axis) versus SRTM (x-axis). The total global value is designated with the red point. Very large differences typically indicate large low-lying areas hydrologically connected to the ocean under CoastalDEM, but not SRTM. Source data are in Supplementary Data 1
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
The relative difference of computed population ECWL exposure between lidar and four global DEMs. Populations living on land below 1, 2, and 3 m are computed in the US and Australia with each DEM. Zero relative differences indicate both lidar and the given global DEM predict the same number of people below the elevation threshold whereas, for example, −0.5 and 0.5 would indicate that the global DEM underestimation or overestimated by 50%, respectively. Results are given for each US state, as well as at the national scale in the US and Australia. Source data are provided as a Source Data file

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