U.S. Coastal Population Will Reach 134 Million People By 2020

By 2020, there will be 134 million people living on coasts of the United States.

According to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the population along the east and west coasts of the United States will continue to grow, putting more and more people in the firing path of extreme storms like Superstorm Sandy.

NOAA worked with the U.S. Census Bureau for the report, which used data from the 2010 census (which saw 123 million living on the coasts). What they found was that 39 percent of the American population live in counties directly on the coast, which makes up only 10 percent of the American landmass. And when we extend the definition of “coastal” to include counties whose water drains to coastal watersheds (20 percent of the U.S. landmass), the population living on the coasts increases to 52 percent of the American population. A coastal watershed is defined as a land area where water, dissolved materials and sediments all drain into a coastal body of water, like an ocean or bay.

These figure include the state of Alaska, which makes up 17 percent of the American landmass and only 0.2 percent of the nation’s population, meaning if we didn’t count the state with the largest (by far) area and smallest population density (also by far), these numbers would be far higher.

“People who live near the shore, and managers of these coastal communities, should be aware of how this population growth may affect their coastal areas over time,” Holly Bamford, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service, said in a NOAA statement. “As more people move to the coast, county managers will see a dual challenge - protecting a growing population from coastal hazards, as well as protecting coastal ecosystems from a growing population.”

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