An AHP-derived method for mapping the physical vulnerability of coastal areas at regional scales
Assessing coastal vulnerability to climate change at regional scales is now mandatory in France since the adoption of recent laws to support adaptation to climate change. However, there is presently no commonly recognised method to assess accurately how sea level rise will modify coastal processes in the coming decades. Therefore, many assessments of the physical component of coastal vulnerability are presently based on a combined use of data (e.g. digital elevation models, historical shoreline and coastal geomorphology datasets), simple models and expert opinion. In this study, we assess the applicability and usefulness of a multi-criteria decision-mapping method (the analytical hierarchy process, AHP) to map physical coastal vulnerability to erosion and flooding in a structured way. We apply the method in two regions of France: the coastal zones of Languedoc-Roussillon (north-western Mediterranean, France) and the island of La Réunion (south-western Indian Ocean), notably using the regional geological maps. As expected, the results show not only the greater vulnerability of sand spits, estuaries and low-lying areas near to coastal lagoons in both regions, but also that of a thin strip of erodible cliffs exposed to waves in La Réunion. Despite gaps in knowledge and data, the method is found to provide a flexible and transportable framework to represent and aggregate existing knowledge and to support long-term coastal zone planning through the integration of such studies into existing adaptation schemes.