Bangladesh, at the confluence of the sediment-laden Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, supports an enormous and rapidly growing population (>140 million in 2011), across low-lying alluvial and delta plains that have accumulated over the past few thousand years. It has been identified as one of the most vulnerable places in the world to the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. Although abundant sediment supply has resulted in accretion on some parts of the coast of Bangladesh, others are experiencing rapid erosion. We report a systematic assessment of rates of shoreline change over a 20-year period from 1989 to 2009, using Landsat satellite images with pixel resolution of 30 m on the ground. A Band ratio approach, using Band-5 divided by Band-2, discriminated the water line on images that were largely cloud-free, adequately registered, and at comparable tidal stages. Rates of shoreline change were calculated for >16,000 transects generated at 50 m intervals along the entire mainland coastline (>1,100 km) and major islands, using the End Point Rate (EPR) method in the Digital Shoreline Analysis System (DSAS) extension in ArcGIS®. Erosion characterises most of the seaward margin of the Sundarbans in western Bangladesh. Retreat rates of up to 20 m/yr are typical, with little evidence that local devastation of the mangrove fringe by Cyclone Sidr in November 2007 had resulted in uncharacteristic long-term rates of retreat where it made landfall. Erosion exceeded accretion in the Barguna Patuakhali coastal zone, most of which eroded at up to 20 m/yr, but with truncation of the southern tip of the Patharghata Upazila at up to 100 m/yr. In Bhola, erosion at rates of up to 120 m/yr were observed along much of the coast, but in the Noakhali Feni coastal zone, similar rates of erosion were balanced by rapid accretion of the main promontory by more than 600 m/yr. Rates of change were more subdued in the Chittagong and Cox's Bazar coastal zones of southeast Bangladesh. Islands in the Meghna estuary were especially dynamic; Hatiya Island accreted along some of its shoreline by 50 km2 between 1989 and 2009, but lost 65 km2 through erosion elsewhere, resulting in the island moving south. Similar trends were observed on adjacent islands. The overall area changed relatively little across the entire coastline over the 20-year period with accretion of up to 315 km2, countered by erosion of about 307 km2.
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