Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Coastal climate change, soil salinity and human migration in Bangladesh


Climate change is not only altering weather patterns but also accelerating sea-level rise, leading to increased inundation and saline contamination of soils. Given projected sea-level rise, it is imperative to examine the extent to which farmers in coastal Bangladesh can adapt by diversifying economic activities before resorting to migration within and across borders. Here, to identify patterns in how households adapt to increased sea/freshwater flooding and soil salinity, we analyse nationally representative socioeconomic and migration data against a suite of environmental variables constructed at the sub-district level. Our results show that inundation alone has negligible effects on migration and agricultural production. However, gradual increases in soil salinity correspond to increasing diversification into aquaculture and internal migration of household members. Salinity is also found to have direct effects on internal and international migration even after controlling for income losses, with mobility restricted to certain locations within Bangladesh. Our study suggests that migration is driven, in part, by the adverse consequences of salinity on crop production.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Fig. 1: Projected additional within-district migrants in coastal region of Bangladesh because of an increase in salinity from the first to fifth quintile.
Fig. 2: Projected additional out-of-district migrants from coastal region of Bangladesh because of an increase in salinity from the first to fifth quintile.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The datasets generated during the current study and Stata dofiles utilized in the analysis are available upon request from the corresponding authors.


  1. Clark, P. et al. Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-milliennial climate and sea-level change. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 360–369 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Yu, W. H. et al. Climate Change Risks and Food Security in Bangladesh (Earthscan, Washington DC, 2010).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Gray, C. & Mueller, V. Natural disasters and population mobility in Bangladesh. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109(16), 6000–6005 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Lu, X. et al. Unveiling hidden migration and mobility patterns in climate stress regions: a longitudinal study of six million anonymous mobile phone users in Bangladesh. Glob. Environ. Change 38, 1–7 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Call, M., Gray, C., Yunus, M. & Emch, M. Disruption, not displacement: environmental variability and temporary migration in Bangladesh. Glob. Environ. Change 46, 157–165 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chen, J. J., Mueller, V., Jia, Y. & Tseng, S. K.-H. Validating migration responses to flooding using satellite and vital registration data. Am. Econ. Rev. 107, 441–445 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Banerjee, L. Effects of flood on agricultural productivity in Bangladesh. Oxf. Dev. Stud. 38, 339–356 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Alauddin, M. & Sharma, B. R. Inter-district rice water productivity differences in Bangladesh: an empirical exploration and implications. Ecol. Econ. 93, 210–218 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Alauddin, M., Amarasinghe, U. & Sharma, B. Four decades of rice water productivity in Bangladesh: a spatio-temporal analysis of district level panel data. Econ. Anal. Policy 44, 51–64 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Alpuerto, V.-L. E. B., Norton, G. W., Alwang, J. & Ismail, A. M. Economic impact analysis of marker-assisted breeding for tolerance to salinity and phosphorous deficiency in rice. Appl. Econ. Perspect. Policy 31, 779–792 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Hauer, M. E. Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 321–325 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Fussell, E. Oxford Handbook of the Politics of International Migration (eds Rosenblum, M. R. & Tichenor, D. J.) Ch. 1 (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 2012).

  13. Feng, S., Krueger, A. B. & Oppenheimer, M. Linkages among climate change, crop yields and Mexico–US cross-border migration. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 14257–14262 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Cai, R., Feng, S., Oppenheimer, M. & Pytlikova, M. Climate variability and international migration: the importance of the agricultural linkage. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 79, 135–151 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cattaneo, C. & Peri, G. The migration response to increasing temperatures. J. Dev. Econ. 122, 127–146 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Xu, H. Modification of normalized difference water index (NDWI) to enhance open water features in remotely sensed imagery. Int. J. Remote Sens. 27, 3025–3033 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Ji, L., Zhang, L. & Wylie, B. Analysis of dynamic thresholds for the normalized difference water index. Photogramm. Eng. Remote Sensing 75, 1307–1317 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Ogilvie, A. et al. Decadal monitoring of the Niger inner delta flood dynamics using MODIS optical data. J. Hydrol. (Amst.) 523, 368–383 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Saline Soils of Bangladesh (Soil Resource Development Institute, 2012).

  20. Welch, J. et al. Rice yields in tropical/subtropical Asia exhibit large but opposing sensitivities to minimum and maximum temperatures. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 14562–14567 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Dodd, I. & Perez-Alfocea, F. Microbial amelioration of crop salinity stress. J. Exp. Bot. 63, 3415–3428 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Yan, N., Marschner, P., Cao, W., Zuo, C. & Qin, W. Influence of salinity and water content on soil microorganisms. Int. Soil Water Conserv. Res. 3, 316–323 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Azad, A. K., Jensen, K. R. & Lin, C. K. Coastal aquaculture development in Bangladesh: unsustainable and sustainable experiences. Environ. Manage. 44, 800–809 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Higgins, S. A. et al. InSAR measurements of compaction and subsidence in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, Bangladesh. J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surf. 119, 1768–1781 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Black, R., Bennett, S. R., Thomas, S. M. & Beddington, J. Migration as adaptation. Nature 478, 447–449 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Islam, A. S., Bala, S. K. & Haque, M. A. Flood inundation map of Bangladesh using MODIS time-series images. J. Flood Risk Manag. 3, 210–222 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. National Research Council NOAA’s Role in Space-Based Global Precipitation Estimation and Application (National Academies, Washington DC, 2007).

  28. Tarek, M., Hassan, A., Bhattacharjee, J., Choudhury, S. & Badruzzaman, A. Assessment of TRMM data for precipitation measurement in Bangladesh. Meteorol. Appl. 24, 349–359 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Rosenzweig, M. R. & Binswanger, H. P. Wealth, weather risk and the composition and profitability of agricultural investments. Econ. J. (Lond.) 103, 56–78 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Ahmed, R. & Karmakar, S. Arrival and withdrawal dates of the summer monsoon in Bangladesh. Int. J. Climatol. 13, 727–740 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank K. Dotzel, Y. Jia, M. Kedir and S. Vallury for research assistance and S. K.-H. Tseng for sharing his code; C. Kinnan and participants of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) Pursuit Working Group on ‘A Forecast of the Timing, Locations, Sequence and Likeliest Destinations of Populations Displaced by Sea Level Rise and Coastal Extremes’ for providing constructive feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript. Financial support from the National Science Foundation via the Belmont Forum/IGFA Program (ICER-1342644) and the SESYNC Pursuit programme is acknowledged.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



J.C. and V.M. designed the evaluation, constructed the datasets and wrote the paper. J.C conducted the migration and livelihood impact analysis, while V.M. contributed the visual projections based on the migration modelling.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to J. Chen or V. Mueller.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–5

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chen, J., Mueller, V. Coastal climate change, soil salinity and human migration in Bangladesh. Nature Clim Change 8, 981–985 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing