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NOAA Issues New Land Cover Assessment Showing Increasing U.S. Coastal Development

March 17, 2008

A NOAA survey of land use along U.S. coasts shows that 53 percent of the new development between 1996 and 2001 occurred along the Southeastern U.S. coast between Texas and North Carolina.

The biggest areas of new development include Harris County (Houston), Texas; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Will County (Chicago), Ill. Completing the top 10 list of developed areas are the Florida counties of Brevard (Melbourne) , Hillsborough (Tampa), Lee (Fort Myers) and Orange (Orlando); Horry County (Myrtle Beach), S.C.; and Montgomery County (north fringe of Houston), Texas.

Data being processed from 2005 shows the pace of development may be increasing. The Mid-Atlantic three-state area of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, including the District of Columbia, now has development covering over 10 percent of the total land area. An additional area approximating half the size of Washington, D.C., is estimated to be already cleared for development.

This information was derived from the first NOAA nationwide study of coastal land cover change. NOAA maps are now standardized across the nation, allowing scientists for the first time to compare maps from different regions and maps from the same place but from different years. This comparison ability provides data that is critically important to both scientists and city planners as the U.S. population along the coastline continues to grow.

"Land cover maps document what's happening on the ground. By showing how that land cover has changed over time, scientists can determine how these changes impact our environmental health," said Nate Herold, a NOAA physical scientist who directed the mapping effort at NOAA's Coastal Services Center in Charleston, S.C.  "Satellite imagery is the best way to get a big picture view of the cumulative impact of changes along our coasts."

The new standardized format allows updates to existing data to be completed in less time and at lower cost than the baseline data from 1996 and 2001. NOAA plans to complete a full national data set every five years. Work on the second five-year update is already well underway and will be completed in 2010. Data can be found online.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.