HABITAT AND ENVIRONMENT OF ISLANDS—Primary and Supplemental Island Sets

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1590

By N.C. Matalas and B.F. Grossling

A pdf is available for this report.


The original intent of the study was to develop a first-order synopsis of island hydrology with an integrated geologic basis on a global scale. As the study progressed, the aim was broadened to provide a framework for subsequent assessments on large regional or global scales of island resources and impacts on those resources that are derived from global changes.

Fundamental to the study was the development of a comprehensive framework—a wide range of parameters that describe a set of "saltwater" islands sufficiently large to

The comprehensive framework, which is referred to as the “Primary Island Set,” is built on 122 parameters that describe 1,000 islands. To complement the investigations based on the Primary Island Set, two supplemental island sets, Set A—Other Islands (not in the Primary Island Set) and Set B—Lagoonal
Atolls, are included in the study.

The Primary Island Set, together with the Supplemental Island Sets A and B, provides a framework that can be used in various scientific disciplines for their island-based studies on broad regional or global scales.

The study uses an informal, coherent, geophysical organization of the islands that belong to the three island sets. The organization is in the form of a global island chain, which is a particular sequential ordering of the islands referred to as the "Alisida."

The Alisida was developed through a trial-and-error procedure by seeking to strike a balance between "minimizing the length of the global chain" and "maximizing the chain’s geophysical coherence." The fact that an objective function cannot be minimized and maximized simultaneously indicates that the Alisida is not unique. Global island chains other than the Alisida may better serve disciplines other than those of hydrology and geology.





Primary Island Set

Identification Parameters

Historical Parameters

First European Contact

Other Names of the Islands


Geographic Parameters

Locations of Islands

Island Affinities

Topologic Properties of the Islands


Physiographic Parameters

Size of Islands

Quantitative Descriptors of Island Groups

Qualitative Descriptors of Island Topographies

Qualitative Descriptors of Island Shapes

Dimensional Measures of Islands


Geologic Parameters

Relational Features of the Earth’s Surface

Geologic Classification


Geologic Topology


Hydrologic Parameters

Hydrologic Sketch


Economic Parameters

Sovereignty of Islands

Populations of Islands and Principal Centers

Principal Seaports and Airports

Local Time


Environmental Parameters

Local Meteorology of Islands

Climatic Markers

Hydrologic Classes


Supplemental Island Sets A and B

Windows on the Primary Island Set

References Cited

Abbreviations and Notation


Foreign Terms

Technical Terms






Windows on the Primary Island Set

Window 1—Basic Information

Window 2—Historical Information

Window 3—Geographic Information

Window 4—Physiographic Information

Window 5—Topologic Information

Window 6—Geophysical Information

Window 7—Geologic Neighbors

Window 8—Demographic Information

Window 9—Geographic–Geologic–Sovereignty Affinities

Window 10—Port and Airport Information

Window 11—Meteorologic Information

Window 12—Climatic Information

Window 13—Names of Islands

Windows on the Supplemental Island Sets

Window A—Other Islands

Window B—Lagoonal Atolls


Appendix A—Size of the Earth

Appendix B—Geometric Measures of Islands

Appendix C—Notion of Compactness

Appendix D—Generation of Thematic Maps

Appendix E—Global Distribution of Islands

Appendix F—Partial Tracks of the Alisida

Appendix G—Global Distributions of Specific Hydrologic Features

Appendix H—Global Distribution of Islands per Sovereignty

Appendix I—Global Distributions of Specific Climatic Markers

Appendix J—Islands–Maps and General Information

Appendix K—Island Notes

Selected Bibliography



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U.S. Geological Survey,

Information Services

Building 810

Box 25286, Federal Center

Denver, CO 80225-0286


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Companion compact disc: 27.57 MB


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