Home Database Tools CIS – Coastal Information System and CWA – Coastal Web Atlas
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CIS – Coastal Information System and CWA – Coastal Web Atlas


According to O’Dea et al, 2007 Coastal Information Systems (CISs) can be defined as “a collection of digital maps and datasets with supplementary tables, illustrations and information that systematically illustrate the coast, oftentimes with cartographic and decision support tools”. Most useful and powerful CISs are those accessible on-line that are generally identified as Coastal Web Atlas (CWAs). They may be simply tools for serving a geospatial database via a web interface. Alternatively, the most recent generation of web atlas links multiple servers of data together, and provides interactive tools using the latest visualisation technology. ICAN (the International Coastal Atlas Network) - an informal group of organisations who have been meeting to scope and implement data interoperability approaches to coastal web atlases – is a good source of information on CWAs. CISs, and CWAs in particular, can be very useful to support:

  • Better integrated coastal zone management and planning (ICZM) to cope with increasing pressures on the coastal system;
  • Decision support systems to climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation in coastal areas;
  • Natural and technological risk assessment and management;
  • Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and its integration with ICZM;
  • Capacity building initiative in the coastal and marine sectors.

As also highlighted by Wright et al., 2011 (Coastal Informatics. Web Atlas design and implementation, Hershey, New York, USA), Coastal Web Atlas can provide many benefits, such as:

  • A unique portal to access coastal data and information provided by different sources;
  • Up to date geospatial data, that are normally frequently changing;
  • A comprehensive and searchable data catalogue;
  • A multi-scale system, enabling to show different data and information at different scales;
  • Interactive tools and resources;
  • Education tools and resources;
  • Integration with other external tools, such as models or decision support systems.

Various examples of European CWAs are available; these may differ for scope, scale of application, target users, complexity, data typology, available data and information, etc. Some illustrative cases are:

CWAs evolve continuously and other relevant cases are surely available or might be available in the next future; therefore above CWAs just represent some illustrative cases. Very interesting examples are also available from non-European countries, such as US cases, i.e.:

  • MARCO - Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean Mapping and Planning Portal;
  • Oregon Coastal Atlas;
  • MORIS - Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System.

Data and information on climate change impacts and vulnerability are often included in CISs and CWAs, in particular as far as sea level rise is concerned. In relation to the assessment of sea level rise vulnerability, three main approaches can be distinguished:

  • A simple ‘bathtub’ approach; This type of web atlas presents the simple intersection of the projections of sea level rise at either global or regional scale with elevation in the coastal zone. An example of this approach is the Met Office Relative Sea Level Rise tool (MORSE).
  • A geospatial data viewer approach; this approach displays geospatial data layers (including those related to climate change and sea level rise impacts and vulnerability) and is interoperable with other online geospatial data archives. This allows the user to select appropriate geospatial datasets, and query information. Some of these layers may be the direct results from vulnerability models, or derived indicators from geographical analysis. Most of CWAs described above are examples of this approach.
  • Interactive tools; this is a further development of the two previously described methodologies, with the improvement allowing the user to explore in an interactive manner a range of different scenarios, their impacts, and associated confidence in these projections. An example of such a tool is the Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Another example of a similar tool is the already mentioned MARCO Portal from the US Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean.

Reference information

Various, see "Description" field

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Dec 12 2023

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