Coastal News

Study Reveals Human Impact of Global Floodplains

A University of Texas at Arlington hydrologist's study in the journal Scientific Data provides the first-ever global estimate of human destruction of natural floodplains.

The study can help guide future development in a way that can restore and conserve vital floodplain habitats that are critical to wildlife, water quality and reducing flood risk for people.

Adnan Rajib, a UT Arlington assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, was the lead author on the published study, Human Alterations of the Global Floodplains. His doctoral student, Qianjin Zheng, played a significant role in developing the research.

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists Charles Lane, Heather Golden and Jay Christensen; Itohaosa Isibor of Texas A&M University-Kingsville; and Kris Johnson of The Nature Conservancy collaborated on the study. The work was funded through NASA and the National Science Foundation.

"The bottom line is that the world is at greater flood risk than what we realized, especially considering what effect human development has had on floodplains," Rajib said. "In 27 years, between 1992 and 2019, the world has lost a dramatic 600,000 square kilometers of floodplains due to human disturbances, which include infrastructure development, industry and business construction and expansion of agriculture."

The team used satellite remote sensing data and geospatial analytics in studying 520 major river basins of the world, discovering previously unknown spatial patterns and trends of human floodplain alterations.

"Mapping the world's floodplains is relatively new. While there is increasing awareness to map floodplains accurately and understand flood risks, an attempt to map human disturbances in those floodplains at a global scale never existed," said Rajib, who also is the director of the UT Arlington Hydrology and Hydroinformatics Innovation Lab. "It's been done in smaller regions around the world and certainly in the United States and Europe, but not in data-poor regions of the world."

The study concludes that wetland habitats are in danger and that one-third of the total global loss of floodplain wetlands occurred in North America. Rajib said the magnitude of risk for floodplains is much larger than what was previously understood. He and the team examined satellite pictures of those floodplain areas taken over the past 27 years.

Journal Reference:

  1. Adnan Rajib, Qianjin Zheng, Charles R. Lane, Heather E. Golden, Jay R. Christensen, Itohaosa I. Isibor, Kris Johnson. Human alterations of the global floodplains (1992–2019). Scientific Data, 2023; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41597-023-02382-x

ECO Magazine is a marine science trade publication committed to bringing scientists and professionals the latest ground-breaking research, industry news, and job opportunities from around the world.


8502 SW Kansas Ave
Stuart, FL 34997

Newsletter Signup

The ECO Newsletter is a weekly email featuring the Top 10 stories of the past seven days, providing readers with a convenient way to stay abreast on the latest ocean science and industry news.