A coherent approach to structuring reference units for coastal vulnerability analysis is often required for large-scale analyses of the coastal system. However, a review of existing spatial reference frameworks within vulnerability analyses demonstrates that our use of coastal space within large-scale models remains relatively poor. This paper examines a series of challenges to spatial modeling that have emerged from the development of a national to global impact tool, DIVA (Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment). The paper addresses how best to utilize the limited data to develop a reference framework for modeling vulnerability within the global coastal environment. It outlines the approach to spatial modeling that has been developed for use within the DIVA tool: segmenting the coastal zone into a series of relatively homogenous reference units at the scale of DIVA, based on the behavior of the physical, social, and economic systems within the zone. The importance of effective spatially defined models is emphasized within the paper. Encouraging greater spatial recognition and definition of the behavioral environment of the coast is critical to modeling space within the coastal system. By decreasing spatial uncertainties in the creation of reference units for vulnerability analysis, the accuracy of modeling within large-scale coastal environments can be further improved.

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