Using Video Imagery to Study Coastal Change: Santa Cruz Beaches

Science Center Objects

Two video cameras atop the Dream Inn hotel in Santa Cruz, California, overlook the coast in northern Monterey Bay. Camera 1 looks eastward over Santa Cruz Main Beach and boardwalk, while Camera 2 looks southward over Cowells Beach. The cameras are part of the Remote Sensing Coastal Change project.

Every half hour during daylight hours, the cameras collect snapshots and video for 10 minutes. Today’s most recent images are shown below. Please note that it takes 10 minutes for the images to be posted, once they are collected by the camera.

Currently, video cameras are installed at these locations:

These and other images are used to remotely sense a range of processes, including:

  • shoreline position,
  • sandbar migration,
  • rip-channel formation,
  • wave run-up on the beach,
  • alongshore current, and
  • nearshore bathymetry.



The snapshot is the first frame of the video, just like a standard photo.

Main Beach Snapshot, looking eastward

Cowells Beach Snapshot, looking southward


Timex (time-exposure) images

A timex is a time-averaged image of all frames, smoothing away surface waves and determining the location of persistent wave-breaking (indicative of shallow sandbars).

Main Beach Timex, looking eastward

Cowells Beach Timex, looking southward


Variance images

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.

Main Beach Variance Image, looking eastward

Cowells Beach Variance Image, looking southward


Bright images

A “bright” image shows the brightest pixel values throughout the video, useful for identifying the position of maximum wave run-up on the beach, position of all breaking waves, and sea-state.

Main Beach Bright Image, looking eastward

Cowells Beach Bright Image, looking southward


Dark images

A “dark” image shows the darkest pixel values throughout the video, useful for tracking sediment plumes, tracking floating debris, and filtering out breaking waves.

Main Beach Dark Image, looking eastward

Cowells Beach Dark Image, looking southward


Two adjacent poles holding video cameras near top, one control box near bottom, one man holding small tool near control box.

USGS ocean engineer Gerry Hatcher (left) and USGS postdoctoral oceanographer Shawn Harrison make adjustments to a computer controlling two video cameras on the roof of the Dream Inn, a 10-story hotel overlooking Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, California.