Using Video Imagery to Study Coastal Change: Whidbey Island

Science Center Objects

Video cameras overlook the coast along a beach on Whidbey Island, Island County at the northern boundary of Puget Sound in western Washington.

    Wet sand on a beach has a little shallow water with rocks and boulders, coastal cliffs in background.

    View of beach on Whidbey Island, looking north.

    The study area has some of the highest rates of coastal bluff retreat in Puget Sound. An interagency team led by the USGS is researching how extreme-storm water levels and waves affect bluff erosion and the movement of sediment along beaches. The video-based remote-sensing tools measure storm water levels, waves, currents, and beach, and bluff changes to property, infrastructure, and habitats. The data are initially being used to examine sediment transport that affects habitats for valued juvenile salmon, forage fish, and shellfish. In particular, the research is evaluating the extent that waves and sediment modify habitat complexity and its role in wave runup as well as shellfish biomass and diversity. Ultimately, the research will help guide and improve numerical model predictions of coastal and habitat change associated with sea-level rise, storms, and waves to inform resilience planning.

    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.

    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 [Larger version]

    Camera 2 Snapshot [Larger version]


    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 [Larger version]

    Camera 2 Timex Image​​​​​​​ [Larger version]


    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 [Larger version]

    Camera 2 Variance Image [Larger version]


    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 [Larger version]

    Camera 2 Bright Image [Larger version]


    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 [Larger version]

    Camera 2 Dark Image [Larger version]