Into uncharted territories – Subsidence along Africa’s Gulf of Guinea coast?

Minderhoud, P.S.J.


The coastline of the African Gulf of Guinea hosts large river deltas, coastal wetlands and mangrove ecosystems. It is in places densely populated, with many capital megacities with millions of inhabitants such as Lagos, Abidjan and Accra situated at the coast. And population projections for these cities suggest a continued staggering increase in the coming decades. Also, many of the economic activities are located along the coastline. For example, Nigerian coastal areas are home to 85% of the nation industry and to more than 100 million people. On the other hand, the coastland retains pristine transitional environments formed during the Holocene, well recognized for the great biological richness and the high level of endemism. These pressures and foreseen growth make these lowly elevated coastal areas particularly vulnerable to relative sea-level rise (SLR).
Regional or local impact studies of climate-change induced global sea-level rise are scarce and, when available, do not account for vertical land motion, i.e. land subsidence. Coastal land subsidence is critically under-quantified at global scale and the Gulf of Guinea region is no exception to this. Meanwhile, examples elsewhere in the World show coastal economic development and population growth can accelerate land subsidence to rates that are magnitudes larger than global SLR. With the fast-paced developments taking place along the Gulf of Guinea’s coastline, land subsidence poses an unknown but potentially large hazard to this region.

Here, we present the first findings in our work to assess coastal subsidence in this fast-changing region of the World, through regional and local case studies and satellite assessments. By building on the recent advancements in global elevation data, we aim to update coastal elevation estimates and identify low lying hotspots with high vulnerability to relative SLR. Ultimately, we aim to project coastal elevation change for this important region and, in case of human-induced land subsidence, show how much relative SLR can potentially be avoided by changing to sustainable use of natural resources. Hence, we may be able to alter the fate of deltas, wetlands and coastal cities by quantifying and addressing land subsidence as early as in this fast growing region of the world.