Using Video Imagery to Study Coastal Change: Sunset State Beach

Science Center Objects

Two video cameras overlook the coast at Sunset State Beach in Watsonville, California. Camera 1 looks northwest while Camera 2 looks north. The cameras are part of the Remote Sensing Coastal Change project.

Every half hour during daylight hours, the cameras shoot 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.

USGS plans to install similar systems in other U.S. locations. The knowledge gained will improve computer-derived simulations of shoreline change that communities can use to plan for sea-level rise, changing storm patterns, and other threats to beaches.

Please note: If old photos are displayed, cameras may be temporarily offline.



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

Camera 1 Snapshot, looking northwest

Camera 2 Snapshot, looking north


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).

Camera 1 Timex Image, looking northwest

Camera 2 Timex Image, looking north


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.

Camera 1 Variance Image, looking northwest

Camera 2 Variance Image, looking north


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.

Camera 1 Bright Image, looking northwest

Camera 2 Bright Image, looking north


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.

Camera 1 Dark Image, looking northwest

Camera 2 Dark Image, looking north