Coastal engineering evolution in low-lying areas and adaptation practice since the eleventh century, Jiangsu Province, China

Abstract

Coastal engineering is an important measure in coping with coastal risks. With global warming and sea level rising, the sustainable adaptation of the low-lying areas becomes urgent. An in-depth understanding of the relationship between coastal engineering and environmental changes can help improve the adaptation capability for climate change. Here, we use historical documents and synthesis approach to examine coastal engineering evolution on the Jiangsu coast, the largest lowland area along China’s coastlines, and explore its response to local sea level and land use changes. The results show that coastal engineering here experienced a long-term period centered on sea-dike construction, with a shift from primary function of storm surge prevention since the eleventh century, towards a green coastal engineering approach in recent years. On the century scale, there was a close connection between local sea level change and coastal engineering change, while on the ten-year scale, population dynamics and land use changes were the key driving factors. Since the future climate and sea level change magnitude will be beyond what has been observed on the Jiangsu coast, it would be sensible to define a “critical time” that divides the near future and remote future. On such a basis, a strategic plan for the remote future may be formulated to prepare for the critical time when inevitable inundation occurs, and a second strategic plan may be adopted for the near future, to buy time for the coastal communities to make necessary preparations and at the same time to continue to use the resources. For the “near future,” a green coastal engineering approach (in combination with the experiences gained from the Jiangsu coast) should be developed to provide a low cost, high efficiency technique for coastal defense schemes. The thoughts outlined above may be applicable also to a number of low-lying coastal regions of developing countries.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Social Science Foundation in China, through the project “Climate change and traditional adaptation on Jiangsu-Shanghai coasts” (Grant Number18BZS156). We thank the anonymous reviewers for their critical comments on the original manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shu Gao.

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Bao, J., Gao, S. & Ge, J. Coastal engineering evolution in low-lying areas and adaptation practice since the eleventh century, Jiangsu Province, China. Climatic Change (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-020-02738-x

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Keywords

  • Coastal engineering
  • Local sea level
  • Land use change
  • Low-lying coasts
  • Human adaptation
  • China’s Jiangsu coast