Featured Photos and Videos
Keep watching this page for more photos from our scientists!
Science as art
This is an image produced from one of two video cameras, which were installed to overlook the coast at Main Beach in Santa Cruz, California. The cameras are part of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center’s Remote Sensing Coastal Change project. Every half hour during daylight hours, the cameras shoot video for 10 minutes. The camera system then processes the imagery it collects, to produce visualizations that highlight or track different pixel changes that occur throughout the 10-minute window.
As an example of the imagery produced, this is a time-averaged, or “timex,” image. It's an average of all frames taken over the 10-minute period, smoothing away surface waves and determining the location of persistent wave-breaking (indicative of shallow sandbars). The USGS will use these images to detect short-term, long-term, and seasonal changes in shoreline position, sandbar migration, rip-channel formation, wave run-up on the beach, and nearshore bathymetry.
Monitoring the Northernmost Point in the U.S.
Point Barrow, Alaska, or Nuvuk, is the northernmost point in the United States. USGS has set up video cameras, mounted to the pole shown in the photos below, to study sediment movement and wave dynamics along this dynamic coastline. Photos credit: Dan Nowacki, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Public domain.
View the camera images and learn more: Using Video Imagery to Study Sediment Transport and Wave Dynamics: Nuvuk (Point Barrow)
Why the Ocean?
Ocean engineer Gerry Hatcher, of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center (PCMSC), sits at a desk on board the USGS boat Sallenger (below). He and a team of scientists from PCMSC and sister team St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center are near Eastern Dry Rocks reef off the coast of Key West, Florida. Gerry is keeping notes while the special camera system that he invented and developed is towed in the water.
The system is called “SQUID-5” (Structure-from-Motion Quantitative Underwater Imaging Device with 5 cameras, shown at right). SQUID-5 is towed over an area of interest, in this case a coral reef ecosystem, to collect high-resolution georeferenced imagery that is used to make 3D maps of the seafloor.
These high-res maps allow the USGS to detect millimeter-scale changes in seafloor elevation and coral reef structure. This information can be used to help track the progress of restoration efforts being done by partners such as the NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary over the next two decades.
Heathy Coral Reefs
A healthy coral reef in the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve off Tumon, Guam, showing a number of different species of fish swimming over a high coral cover reef composed of a number of hard and soft coral species. Credit: Curt Storlazzi, USGS
Learn more: Coral Reef Project
Wildfire History in the Mud
In August of 2020, the enormous CZU wildfire complex consumed over 85,000 acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, leaving scarred landscapes in the hilly region. Runoff from large rainstorms in the winter months carry contaminants from the soils within these burned-out forests. Forest fires and the fire retardants used to help control and extinguish them introduce chemicals into watersheds that can harm wildlife and contaminate drinking water. Research geologist Renee Takesue, of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, samples stream sediment in the lower parts of burned watersheds to measure concentrations of several kinds of contaminants following major storm runoff in late January 2021. Our team hopes to compare these with samples taken from the same watersheds after the fire. Samples must be collected before too much time has elapsed since the wildfires, before post-fire storms wash the burned material downstream.
Further down this page, is a photo of Renee sampling sediment in San Pablo Bay in 2019, to test for contaminents that may have washed downstream following the Nuns Fire of 2017.
Learn more: Landscape Response to Disturbance
Far out, man... when science becomes art
This is an image produced from one of two video cameras, which were installed to overlook the coast at Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California. The cameras are part of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center’s Remote Sensing Coastal Change project.
Every half hour during daylight hours, the cameras shoot video for 10 minutes. The camera system then processes the imagery it collects, to produce visualizations that highlight or track different pixel changes that occur throughout the 10-minute window.
As an example of the imagery produced, this is a "variance" image from Camera 2, from November 19th, 2020. A “variance” image shows the standard deviation of pixel intensity throughout the video, and it is useful for determining how much variation or movement is occurring at a given location. A single image like this can show features that are not always obvious to the naked eye - like sandbar and rip-channel locations. Collecting such imagery over many months or a year or more enables researchers to see how these features change through time, and how big storms, king tides, and other extreme events influence and shape our coastal regions.
Visit the Camera 2 Variance image page (which changes every half hour during the daylight hours), or the Sunset State Beach web cam page to view all 5 image types produced by each of the two cameras installed on the coastal bluff. See if you can detect how the beach and nearshore features vary (or don't vary!) between the current view and this view from 11/19/20.
Hooray for Sediment Cores!
Dr. Nora Nieminski is a research geologist and Mendenhall Fellow at the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California. She is pictured here, on board Marine Vessel Bold Horizon, with a piston core sample collected from the southern Cascadia subduction zone offshore of northern California/southern Oregon. The research cruise ran from September-October of 2019 as part of the USGS project, “Cascadia Subduction Zone Marine Geohazards.” The research is focused on characterizing offshore marine geohazards like tsunamis, earthquakes, and underwater landslides along this tectonic boundary, which is prone to megathrust earthquakes.
Once recovered, the cores were extruded and sectioned on deck. Dr. Nieminski is studying these cores to investigate sediment routing and storage along the Cascadia margin and to identify any structural evidence of past earthquake activity that may be present in the sediment.
Ready to Roll!
The USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center's new inflatable boat equipped with a new, portable, single-beam echo sounder for shallow water surveys awaits deployment into the San Lorenzo River. The famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park's water log ride looms above.
Marine engineering technician Pete Dal Ferro sets up the CEESCOPE on the San Lorenzo River, right next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park. The CEESCOPE collects bathymetric (depth) data and also records features of the subsurface. All the components are easy for one person to set up and operate, with GPS and an LCD touch screen. USGS scientists collect nearshore data in this region seasonally, to study sediment input and movement in and around Monterey Bay area beaches.
Taking PPE to a whole new level
You have to be able to have a little fun when in the field! Diana McCandless, right, scientist from the Washington State Department of Ecology, hams it up on July 21, 2020, while prepping for a beach survey with USGS scientists Josh Logan (left) and Andy Ritchie (middle) from the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. The multi-agency surveys help to define sediment transport pathways to study and define coastal changes at the mouth of the Columbia River at the border of Oregon and Washington. In this area, dams, stone jetties, navigation channels, and changes in upstream land use affect the sediment supply to beaches.
Caution: Pedestrian Crossing??
Pete Dal Ferro and Andrew Stevens, both from the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center (PCMSC) in Santa Cruz, California, install a Vaisala WXT weather station in Grizzly Bay, east of San Pablo Bay and northeast of San Francisco. The weather station collects wind speed, temperature, air pressure, relative humidity, and rainfall, and data are transmitted to a web page in real time via a custom-built data logger and modem designed by PCMSC oceanographer Dan Nowacki. Other sensors installed in Grizzly and San Pablo Bays, collecting wave and current speed, water temperature, salinity, pressure, and more, can be used with data from this weather station to help gain a better understanding of the conditions that influence sediment movement through the Bays.
The weather station is installed on this structure which is called a "dolphin," in the middle of Grizzly Bay. Obviously, someone (not us!) long ago thought it woud be funny to install a "pedestrian crossing" sign!
Learn more: Sediment Transport in Coastal Environments
How Our Reefs Protect Us: Valuing the Benefits of U.S. Reefs
The degradation of coral reefs raises risks by increasing the exposure of coastal communities to flooding hazards during storms. The protective services of these natural defenses are not assessed in the same rigorous economic terms as artificial defenses, such as seawalls, and therefore often are not considered in decision-making. Here we combine engineering, ecologic, geospatial, social, and economic tools to provide a rigorous valuation of the coastal protection benefits of all U.S. coral reefs in the States of Hawaiʻi and Florida, the territories of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The annual value of flood risk reduction provided by U.S. coral reefs is more than 18,000 lives and $1.805 billion in 2010 U.S. dollars. These data provide stakeholders and decision makers with spatially explicit, rigorous valuation of how, where, and when U.S. coral reefs provide critical coastal storm flood reduction benefits, and open up new opportunities to fund their protection and restoration. The overall goal is to ultimately reduce the risk to, and increase the resiliency of, U.S. coastal communities.
Learn more: The Value of U.S. Coral Reefs for Risk Reduction
The new face of fieldwork, 2020
Marine technician Dan Powers, from the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center's Marine Facility (PCMSC MarFac), wears all the required personal protective equipment: bib waders, personal floatation device, and mask. He and MarFac engineering technician Pete Dal Ferro went out on Alviso Slough to retrieve and clean current meters that are secured to metal frames. The frames and instruments get pretty fouled-up with mud and vegetation in these shallow waters, requiring frequent cleanings to ensure that ongoing data collection remains valid.
What the skipper sees
Pristine field conditions on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta near Rio Vista, California! USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center skipper Pete Dal Ferro captured this view through the windshield of the PCMSC boat San Lorenzo.
Scientists collect beach elevation data near Moss Landing, California
Left to right: USGS scientist Josh Logan, USGS contractor Babak Tehranirad, and University of California-Santa Cruz graduate student Rae Taylor-Burns collect beach elevation data near Moss Landing, California, with precision GPS units carried in their backpacks. Learn more about our mapping efforts in regions like this:
- “Dynamic coastlines along the western U.S.”
- “Climate check in our Santa Cruz backyard”
- “Coastal climate impacts”
Long-term beach monitoring
Goleta Beach in Santa Barbara experienced an unusual storm and large wave event in the Spring of 2014. Gaviota Pier, seen far off in the background, sustained heavy damage as did the restaurants on the pier and nearby. The USGS conducts seasonal surveys throught the year to see how the beaches are changing through time. Here, a USGS scientist navigates a personal watercraft equipped with GPS and sonar to measure seafloor depths near the beach. The GPS system enables the driver to follow a precise path and to revisit the same path in future surveys.
For more information, read about our project titled, “Dynamic coastlines along the western U.S.”
Arctic coastal bluff photography
This past September, scientists used a small, remotely piloted aircraft system (UAS) to collect high-resolution natural color and thermal photographs over a narrow swath of the beach and elevated coastal bluffs of Barter Island, on Alaska's Arctic coastline. The photographs are precisely located using ground control targets placed and surveyed using GPS survey methods. The photographs are then post-processed into orthophotomosaics and digital elevation models using structure-from-motion photogrammetric techniques. Information such as shoreline and bluff edge location, ice-content and geology, and thermal characteristics of the bluffs will be derived from the images to provide data on rates, patterns, and processes of coastal erosion.
Read more about the Arctic field work in September 2019.
Read more about our project, “Climate impacts to Arctic coasts”
Read more about the Arctic field work in September 2019.
Read more about our project, “Climate impacts to Arctic coasts”
Animation depicting seasonal cycles on Alaska's Arctic bluffs
Time-lapse video of bluff erosion, Barter Island, Alaska: Summer 2019
USGS Arctic researchers aimed a cellular-connected camera, used for tracking game, on another camera system as a means to keep an eye on the integrity of those video cameras “across the way.” What's funny is that the game cam went offline over the cold winter, and the scientists thought they'd lost it. Then suddenly, on April 15th, the game cam emailed an image! The one shown here is a bit more colorful and from a few days later, on April 19th. Now they know that #1 this game cam is still working (but just got a little frozen!) and #2 that their tower for mounting video cameras (used to observe and quantify coastal processes) is still standing and ready for summer installation.
Read more about our ongoing research about climate impacts to Arctic coasts, and how we use video imagery to study coastal change in Barter Island, Alaska.
Drilling into permafrost on Alaska’s Arctic coast
On remote Barter Island, Alaska, Bruce Richmond (right) and Cordell Johnson drill into 500-foot-thick permafrost using a handheld drill with a 2-inch drill bit—a challenging task! It can take 3 hours to drill nearly 20 feet down. They collect samples of the frozen ground to better understand how climate change is affecting permafrost thaw on Alaska’s Arctic coast.
USGS oceanographer Shawn Harrison stands near video cameras on top of a building overlooking Isla Verde in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The cameras measure wave run-up and flooding as part of a study in response to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.
Read more about the study and see dynamic photos from the video cameras.
Two USGS scientists from the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center operate personal watercraft equipped with sonar and GPS along the beachfront off San Ysidro Creek, near Fernald Point in Montecito, California. They will use the data collected to create bathymetric (depth) maps. Collecting these data on a seasonal basis over many years provides a detailed picture of how the coastline reacts to changes in waves and sediment input. Results will be incorporated into computer models that forecast coastal change. Such models directly help California communities develop plans for how to protect their coastlines. This photo is from a mapping effort in March of 2018.
"Peace at dusk"
USGS oceanographer Shawn Harrison stands on the coastal bluff of Barter Island, Alaska at sunset. Shawn and his fellow researchers are studying how the highly erosive bluff changes under the varied conditions experienced by this stretch of coastline. The knowledge gained will be used to improve computer-derived simulations of shoreline change, that in turn communities can use to plan for sea-level rise, changing storm patterns, and other threats to coasts. Credit: Ferdinand Oberle, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
USGS and Washington State Department of Ecology scientists are geared up and ready to start a topographic survey at the mouth of the Elwha River, using handheld computers and backpack-mounted GPS equipment. From left to right are Owen Warrick (USGS Volunteer), Jon Warrick (USGS), Andy Ritchie (USGS), Heather Weiner (WA State Dept. of Ecology), Diana McCandless (WA State Dept. of Ecology), Alice Henderson (WA State Dept. of Ecology), and Andrew Stevens (USGS). Learn more: USGS science supporting the Elwha River Restoration Project
“The Long and Winding... River”
A winding strip of rainbow colors shows the bathymetry (depth) of the bed of the Mokelumne River just above its confluence with the San Joaquin in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of San Francisco Bay. USGS scientists mapped the channel as part of a project to assess the impact of invasive aquatic vegetation on sediment movement in the Delta. Orange colors are shallowest areas; blue colors are deepest. Note sand waves (rippled texture) produced by strong currents in the deep stretch left of center. Aerial photo, USGS National Map.
“I spy with my little (eagle-) eye . . .”
After a successful beach survey and installation of remote-sensing cameras on a nearby island, scientists Shawn Harrison and Andrew Stevens spotted this bald eagle near the mouth of the Skagit River, Washington.
Computer image of bedrock grooves (corrugations) derived from 3D seismic imaging offshore of Costa Rica. It shows the megathrust fault surface of the Cocos Plate diving beneath the Caribbean Plate, with the upper plate virtually removed. Some of the fault surface has long, straight corrugations; some appears more jumbled. Researchers stretched the image slightly to make the grooves easier to see. The view is roughly from Costa Rica looking offshore. Source: USGS and UC Santa Cruz.
Between Tonga and Samoa along the ocean floor sits the Niua volcano. Black smokers on this seafloor volcano spew out super-heated water and minerals. When they hit the cold seawater, solid minerals form and create these tall chimneys.
Footage courtesy of Schmidt Ocean Institute, ROV ROPOS
Video annotation and editing by Amy West, USGS Science Communications Contractor [Transcript]
Curt Storlazzi of the USGS explains how the water cycle pulled him into oceanography, and how his personal interests parallel his profession. Video by Amy West, USGS Science Communications Contractor [open in a new window]
Below are other science projects associated with this project.
Below are other science projects associated with this project.