The DINAS-COAST project

Anne de la Vega-Leinert summarizes an integrated modelling project intended to improve understanding of the impacts of sea-level rise.

The author is a senior researcher at The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany. Part of her responsibilities involve the scientific coordination of the DINAS-COAST project.

Coastal zones contain a large part of the world’s population, a plethora of ecosystems which are critical for human life, and a considerable proportion of the world’s gross domestic product. These areas are already under tremendous pressure. Many coastal zone management challenges exist, including ecosystem degradation, erosion of most sandy coasts and hard armouring of entire stretches of the coast, all of which disrupt natural coastal processes.

Global sea level rose 10 to 25 cm during the 20th century and this rate is expected to accelerate this century due to human-induced global warming. State-of-the-art coupled climate and oceanic models suggest that even if drastic mitigation measures were implemented now, global sea level would continue to rise for a few hundred years due to the lag between atmospheric and oceanic systems.

Although accelerated sea-level rise might not add new problems, in many places it is expected to exacerbate existing coastal management problems. Direct biophysical impacts of accelerated sea-level rise will include increased flooding and submergence of coastal land, salinization of coastal land and waters, increased erosion and a range of biological effects. These will in turn result in a cascade of direct socio-economic impacts such as loss of economic, ecological, cultural and subsistence assets and less tangible impacts such as changes in health and ways of life.

The high concern about potential impacts of climate impact on coastal areas has, in the past decades, encouraged the development of a number of vulnerability assessment methods and tools and their application in many coastal settings worldwide. Vulnerability assessments can, indeed, provide valuable insights for longer-term coastal management at local and national scales. These assessments have also acted as a lever to international climate negotiations as illustrated, for example, by the important role of the Alliance of Small Island States.


In a previous issue of Tiempo (Issue 36/37, September 2000), I introduced the SURVAS (Synthesis and Upscaling of sea-level Rise Vulnerability Assessment Studies) project. This is a European Union-funded concerted action aimed at:

  • reviewing existing national and subnational coastal vulnerability assessments and associated methods; and,
  • improving regional and global perspectives on accelerated sea-level rise and associated impacts.

Two years later, it is appropriate to review SURVAS’ achievements and introduce the DINAS-COAST project.

Within the SURVAS project, five major workshops were organized over the course of 2000-2001, in which over 125 coastal experts participated. The first and the last of these workshops took place in London. One was to discuss SURVAS aims and methodology, and the other to evaluate the project’s achievements and discuss the future of vulnerability assessment studies. In between, three regional workshops were held which focused on Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

At these events, experts evaluated and discussed the causes and degree of vulnerability of coastal populations to accelerated sea-level rise. Other significant climate changes, current coastal zone management challenges and existing vulnerability assessment methods and results were also discussed. By means of these workshops, SURVAS has encouraged a wide and stimulating debate and exchange about the above issues.

For the European region, SURVAS fostered national reviews of available information, which will be published as a special issue of the Journal of Coastal Research. SURVAS further developed a bottom-up approach to compile and synthesize available data from national and subnational coastal vulnerability assessments. It also produced an updated database on quantitative vulnerability assessment results across the world. SURVAS deliverables are available online at

Throughout the project, it became apparent that, although quantitative national-scale understanding of the impacts of accelerated sea-level rise has advanced, recent vulnerability assessment studies have primarily focused on either identifying qualitatively key areas of concern or followed a case-study approach without attempting a synthesis at national scale.

Further, if there are many relevant data on national coastal vulnerability, these are often scattered, difficult to quantify and have been collected using a wide range of approaches. The latter is due to the fact that most vulnerability assessment studies are performed to inform local and national decision-makers and managers, rather than to provide comparable quantitative data for the purpose of regional and global aggregation and synthesis.


DINAS-COAST is the Dynamic and Interactive Assessment of National Regional and Global Vulnerability of Coastal Zones to Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise.

The DINAS-COAST project is conducting a top-down, integrated modelling effort to improve our understanding on potential impacts of, and adaptation to, accelerated sea-level rise at the national, regional and global scale. To achieve this, DINAS-COAST will produce and disseminate the Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment tool (DIVA). A schematic diagram of the steps within DIVA can be viewed.

DIVA will be composed of a number of components, namely:

  • a new and comprehensive Geographic Information System (GIS) database, containing both biophysical and socio-economic data relevant to coastal impacts and adaptation;
  • a segmentation of the world’s coast (except Antarctica), on which accelerated sea-level rise impacts and adaptation modules will be modelled;
  • a set of interacting impact and adaptation modules;
  • a graphical user interface, and,
  • an integrated model, which will enable the exchange of data from one module to the next, and between all the above components at discrete time steps until 2100.

The GIS database also contains climate change, accelerated sea-level rise scenarios and socio-economic scenarios. Most scenarios run until 2100, although for sea level, scenarios until 2500 have been developed.

The assessment methodology used within DIVA is building on a similar effort carried out ten years ago under the Global Vulnerability Assessment. The results of this were compiled and are published in A Global Vulnerability Analysis: Vulnerability assessments for population, coastal wetlands and rice production on a global scale. The second edition is available from Delft Hydraulics and Rijkswaterstaat in Delft, The Netherlands. Further details can be found at www.survas.

The DINAS-COAST project is extending and improving manifold this early work via:

  • fully integrated, interdisciplinary modelling of coastal impacts and adaptation and a state-of-the-art GIS coastal database;
  • new downscaled climate and accelerated sea-level rise scenarios and new socio-economic scenarios based on the IPCC SRES storylines (that is, population growth and Gross Domestic Product);
  • new and improved modules to assess geodynamic effects of accelerated sea-level rise;
  • new typologies and datasets on wetland distribution and valuation and isostatic movement;
  • new and improved modules to evaluate adaptation strategies and to assess potential costs and benefits of impacts and adaptation at various spatial and temporal scales; and,
  • the use of the SURVAS database on national and subnational vulnerability assessment data to validate the DIVA results.

End-users and DIVA

DINAS-COAST has enlisted the help of a number of coastal and modelling experts who have performed vulnerability assessment studies or wish to use them, in order to advise on the best way to make DIVA as useful as possible to end-users while guaranteeing the quality of the modelling research.

DIVA end-users will be able to produce quantitative information on a range of indicators of coastal impacts and adaptation, using a number of climate, sea-level rise and socio-economic scenarios, for all 180+ coastal nations of the world. End-users will have the opportunity to create their own socio-economic scenarios and select from a number of possible adaptation and mitigation options. For mitigation, this would be via the choice of the climate scenario. Finally, end-users will be able to compare potential losses due to accelerated sea-level rise with costs and benefits of different adaptation measures.

DIVA can, therefore, be a valuable and informative tool to climate negotiators, organizations promoting climate mitigation and adaptation, and integrated coastal zone management, as well as the integrated assessment (scientific) community.

It should be noted, however, that DIVA is not a decision support tool. Coastal managers will not obtain meaningful results to help them to evaluate which coastal adaptation is best for the stretch of coastline they wish to consider. This is largely due to the resolution of DIVA, which is too coarse to provide such detailed information. Nevertheless, DIVA will certainly be of assistance by providing valuable insights for long-term coastal management strategies.

DIVA will be available on CD-ROM as well as be accessible online and will be a dynamic and valuable teaching aid within environmental and coastal resource management courses.

Future modelling research needs

The combined experience arising from both the SURVAS and the DINAS-COAST projects has helped to pinpoint where simple and generalized methods need to be elaborated in order to build key current research issues in state-of-the-art models of coastal impacts and adaptation. These research issues include:

  • a wider range of coastal ecosystems, for example, coral reefs and seagrasses, to be considered as well as the entire coastal zone, that is, including intertidal and subtidal areas;
  • coastal erosion in non-sandy sedimentary coastal environments;
  • groundwater flow and salinization process and impacts;
  • integrated inland and coastal flood impact and adaptation modelling;
  • evaluation of accelerated sea-level rise impacts in the wider context of other climate impacts, such as that of extreme events, and human impacts, such as (mis)management and land-use change, on the coastal zone;
  • adequate assessment of the indirect impacts of accelerated sea-level rise impacts which cannot be readily evaluated in monetary terms, in particular on health, subsistence economies and other socio-cultural aspects;
  • the adaptation process, including decision making, implementation and timing, potential failure mechanisms, and public perception and acceptance of adaptation;
  • a more in-depth evaluation of adaptive capacity, in particular in terms of legal, institutional and social-cultural aspects fostering or hindering coastal adaptation;
  • a wider range of adaptation measures, with a greater focus on developing countries; and,
  • improved modelling resolution for meaningful national and local assessment.

Collectively, there is a need for a greater modelling integration of biophysical and socio-economic impacts on the coastal zone and between inland and coastal processes and adaptation.

Two great challenges are the appropriate consideration of, first, cumulative impacts and risk, and, second, political, cultural and other intangible, non-market based dimensions of vulnerability and adaptive capacity of human populations to coastal change.

The primary constraint here is the frequent lack of historical and current data. This is a concern which is becoming more pressing as, for example, many oceanographic and meteorological monitoring networks are being discontinued across the world’s coasts. Nevertheless, numerous data do exist, and many modelling projects are currently being developed to address some of the above research needs.

These modelling projects include the Eurosion project, the United Kingdom’s Tyndall Centre’s coastal simulator, and the Climpacts/Vandaclim project of the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Finally, it can be surmised that there are two further challenges that need to be met. One is the need for the adequate compilation, analysis and synthesis of the available information on the coastal system. The second is the need to bridge the gap between local, regional and global modelling scales.

Meeting these challenges is a formidable task. The SURVAS and the DINAS-COAST projects are helping to pursue and meet these needs. Other institutions with corresponding initiatives such as the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone project and the International Human Dimensions Programme will also have an increasing important role to play.

Further information
Anne de la Vega-Leinert, Department of Global Change and Natural Systems, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research, PO Box 60 12 03, 14412 Potsdam, Germany. Fax: +49-331-2882642. Email: delavega@pik-potsdam. de. Web:

DINAS-COAST is coordinated by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Other partners are: the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, United Kingdom; Delft Hydraulics, The Netherlands; the Research Unit, Sustainability and Global Change of the Centre for Marine and Climate Research, Hamburg University, Germany; and the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands. The DINAS-COAST project is funded by the European Union and led by Richard Klein.