Dawn J. Wright (Oregon State University, USA), Valerie Cummins (University College Cork, Ireland) and Edward Dwyer (University College Cork, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-815-9.ch001
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Coastal web atlas (CWA) development is introduced in this chapter as a relatively new field of technology, driven by a wide range of coastal policy issues such as population pressure and climate change. International interest in CWAs is demonstrated by the large number of CWA initiatives worldwide. However, there is a need to take stock of technological developments as well as other lessons learned. This chapter sets the scene in relation to these issues which in turn provides the context for describing the aims of the book. The aims of the book are articulated as presenting the latest developments in CWAs and helping readers to determine future needs in mapping and informatics for coastal management.
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Coastal Web Atlases Defined

In recent years significant momentum has occurred in the development of Internet resources for decision makers, scientists and the general public who are interested in the coast. Governments, industry sectors, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a tremendous stake in the development and management of geospatial data resources. Coastal mapping plays an important role in informing decision makers on issues such as national sovereignty, resource management, maritime safety and hazard assessment. A key aspect of this trend has been the development of coastal web atlases (CWAs), based on web-enabled geographic information systems (GISs, Figures 1 and 2). A CWA is defined in O'Dea et al., (2007) as: a collection of digital maps and datasets with supplementary tables, illustrations and information that systematically illustrate the coast, oftentimes with cartographic and decision support tools, all of which are accessible via the Internet. These atlases organize and coordinate all of the above through a single portal or entry point, with a common design theme that is followed through all of the pages of a CWA site. CWAs are also defined in Tikunov et al. (2008) (termed there as “atlas information systems”) and with regard to their increasingly important role in national spatial data infrastructures (SDIs).

Figure 1.

Example of a coastal web atlas, the Oregon Coastal Atlas,, showing opening page with map, tools, learn, and search sections

Figure 2.

Example of a coastal web atlas, the Oregon Coastal Atlas,,showing polygons of rapidly moving landslide regions resulting from a coastal hazard query.


CWAs deal with a variety of thematic priorities (e.g., oil spills or recreational uses) and can be tailored to address the needs of a particular user group (e.g., coastal managers or educators). There are many benefits that CWAs can provide, including:

  • A portal to coastal data and information from diverse sources;

  • Up to date geospatial data which is frequently changing;

  • A widely accessible coastal resource to a broad audience;

  • A comprehensive and searchable data catalogue;

  • Improved efficiency in finding data and information;

  • An instrument for spatial planning;

  • Interactive tools and resources which empower users to find their own answers;

  • An educational resource which raises people’s consciousness about coastal topics.

Driving factors for CWA development include the need for:

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