State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Mapping Vulnerable Populations to Support Disaster Preparedness

Map showing the distribution of people living in poverty in northeast metropolitan areas.
This map of populations living under the poverty line in urban areas of the Northeast  was made by CIESIN for the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN) project, funded under NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program. CCRUN serves stakeholder needs in assessing and managing risks from climate variability and change. It is currently the only RISA team with a principal focus on climate change adaptation in urban settings.

A prime focus of the CCRUN project is to help policy and decision makers understand the potential impacts of warming trends, and the probable increase in the frequency and severity of storm events in major urban coastal areas in the Northeast. One of the goals of our research is to help others design mitigation and adaptation strategies that equitably address the needs of all people living in this region. Understanding the extent and location of people living in poverty is one step in this process. This map clearly illustrates the magnitude and distribution of people living in poverty within the CCRUN region, and suggests the importance of taking their needs into consideration.

The data for this map come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, which defines poverty as households with an annual income below $30,000. Each block of color on the map represents the percent of people living below the poverty line. Although it is well known that the cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia all have a great number of people living in poverty, this map makes clear the extent of the problem in these urban centers. Of particular interest are the dense concentrations of high poverty in areas directly adjacent to or near low-lying coastal or riverine regions. As demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, poverty is a critical factor in the vulnerability of populations to natural hazards, and it should be taken into account both in disaster planning and response and in addressing the future impacts of climate variability and change.

Please visit the CCRUN home page for more information on the project and to view our gallery of maps depicting regional infrastructure, socio-demographic information, and projected climate change scenarios for the Northeast over the next century.

This map and commentary is part of the Map of the Month blog series produced by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Development of this month’s blog was led by CIESIN associate director of Geospatial Application, Mark Becker, and geographic information specialist Tricia Chai-Onn, with senior staff associate Sandra Baptista, and communications coordinator Elisabeth Sydor.



Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments