April 29, 2014 -- From 1996 to 2011, 15 percent of the U.S. Southeast coastal region experienced land cover or land use changes—that’s a total of 14,500 square miles and the equivalent of seven million football fields. With the release of land cover and change data gathered from 2010 to 2011, this discovery and many others are available instantly from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Change Analysis Program ( C-CAP).
The area covered by C-CAP data includes the intertidal areas, wetlands, and adjacent uplands of coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida that drain east into the Atlantic Ocean. C-CAP updates its nationally standardized database of regional land cover and change information every five years.
“The release of this latest data set means that C-CAP data users get a long-range view of changes in the coastal Southeast—for example, wetland losses and gains, development trends, and changes in forest areas over 15 years,” says Nate Herold, C-CAP coordinator at the NOAA Coastal Services Center. “That can lead to better-informed plans and decisions relating to hazard resilience, preservation of wildlife habitat, wetlands restoration, and other issues.”
Here are several findings on land cover changes in the coastal Southeast from 1996 to 2011:
This coastal region added over 1,100 square miles of development, an area larger than the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Miami, and Orlando combined.
About 70 percent of new development radiated outward from metropolitan areas in the form of residential neighborhoods with associated lawns, parks, and golf courses.
Of the 400 square miles of net wetlands lost over 15 years, more than half were replaced by development. Wetlands perform critical ecosystem functions such as improving water quality, absorbing stormwater runoff, and filtering contaminants.
Local restoration activities and lake-level changes enabled some communities to actually gain modest-sized wetland areas, though these gains did not make up for larger areas of losses.
This coastal region experienced a net loss of 6,700 square miles of forest (8,600 square miles of forests were cut while 1,800 square miles of forest were regrown). Such losses lead to forest fragmentation that affects the quantity and quality of wildlife habitat.
C-CAP data and maps have been used by nonprofits, private industry, and government at all scales to make critical plans and decisions. For example, C-CAP data helped officials in Florida’s Miami-Dade County and Georgia’s City of Tybee Island identify sea level rise hazards and craft informed adaptation plans. And South Carolina’s Edisto Island community used land cover maps to help identify areas of cultural importance and make its case to designate a local road as a National Scenic Byway.
C-CAP also produces high-resolution land cover for select geographies.
C-CAP is part of the Digital Coast initiative, which is led by the NOAA Coastal Services Center. The Center works to protect coastal resources and keep communities safe from coastal hazards by providing data, tools, training, and technical assistance. Check out other Center products and services on Facebook or Twitter.