iCoast - Did the Coast Change?

Science Center Objects

iCoast has now been retired. When active, it allowed citizen scientists to identify changes to the coast by comparing aerial photographs taken before and after storms.

iCoast allows citizen scientists to identify changes to the coast by comparing aerial photographs taken before and after storms.

iCoast has now been retired. When active, it allowed citizen scientists to identify changes to the coast by comparing aerial photographs taken before and after storms.

The iCoast Project has now ended (June 1, 2020).

iCoast was conceived as a research project and we have completed our objectives. Therefore, we said farewell to iCoast in June 2020. This allows us to develop new methods to engage a broad community who is interested in learning more about how the coast changes and contributing to research on this topic.

Thank you for your contribution to this project. We had over 2000 registered users who dedicated the equivalent of 500 working days to improve our interpretations of storm impacts to our nation’s coast. You have completed over 65,000 classifications, providing over 600,000 tags describing changes in 25,000 images. The results of this experiment include a research paper, public release of the data, and numerous presentations. We could not have done this without you.

You can continue to find coastal imagery using the Oblique Aerial Photography Viewer.

Below is a summary of information about iCoast as it was presented on the web application.

Purpose of USGS iCoast

Since 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has collected over 140,000 aerial photographs of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts before and after 24 extreme storms in order to assess coastal damages. The USGS has not been able to use these images to the fullest extent due to a lack of the information processing capacity and personnel needed to analyze the thousands of images they collect after each storm. Computers cannot yet automatically identify coastal changes adequately. Human perception is still needed. “USGS iCoast - Did the Coast Change?” is a USGS research project to construct and deploy a citizen science web application that asks volunteers to compare pre- and post-storm aerial photographs and identify coastal changes using predefined tags. This crowdsourced data will help USGS improve predictive models of coastal change and educate the public about coastal vulnerability to extreme storms.

USGS Oblique Aerial Photographs

The USGS acquires high-resolution oblique aerial photography after extreme storms and compares them to baseline imagery collected before the storms. These aerial photographs are taken at a low altitude to capture a small area of the coast. Aerial imagery helps USGS scientists qualitatively classify the geomorphic change and infrastructure damage from extreme storms that may not be easily recognizable in the quantitative topographic data. The photography can be uploaded quickly to the web to help provide damage assessments in the immediate aftermath of a storm. These digital photographs are also geocoded with the location of the aircraft to easily plot them on a map. Explore other oblique aerial photography collections at the USGS Aerial Photography viewer. Learn more about other storms the USGS has studied at the Storm Response page.

USGS Predictive Models of Storm-Induced Coastal Changes

Sandy beaches provide a natural barrier between the ocean and inland communities, ecosystems, and resources. These dynamic environments move and change in response to winds, waves, and currents. During a hurricane, these changes can be large and sometimes catastrophic. High waves and storm surge act together to erode beaches and inundate low-lying lands, putting inland communities at risk. Research on storm-induced coastal change hazards has provided the data and modeling capabilities to allow the USGS to identify areas of the US coastline that are likely to experience extreme and potentially hazardous erosion during hurricanes or other extreme storms.

To assess coastal vulnerability to extreme storms, the USGS has developed a Storm-Impact Scale to produce Coastal Change Probability estimates. Hurricane-induced water levels, due to both storm surge and waves, are compared to beach and dune elevations to determine the probabilities of three types of coastal change processes: (1) Dune Erosion, where the base or toe of the dune is eroded by waves and surge, (2) Overwash, where sand is transported and deposited landward over the beach and dune by waves and surge, and (3) Inundation, where the beach and dune are completely and continuously submerged by surge and wave runup.

Benefits and Broader Impact of USGS iCoast

There are scientific, technological, and societal benefits to the iCoast project. The crowdsourced data produced from users like you in iCoast will enhance predictive modeling of coastal erosion to better inform emergency managers, coastal planners, and coastal residents of coastal vulnerabilities in their region. iCoast also serves the cause of open government and open data, by sharing USGS aerial imagery with the public. Lastly, iCoast educates the public and particularly coastal residents about the vulnerabilities to the coastline resulting from extreme erosion during storms. iCoast can also be used by marine science educators to further science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

The USGS iCoast Team

  • Karen Morgan - Coastal Scientist, USGS Geologist and Aerial Photographer
  • Sophia B. Liu - Principal Investigator, USGS Research Geographer and Mendenhall Postdoc Fellow
  • Barbara Poore - Principal Investigator, USGS Research Geographer
  • Richard Snell - Application Developer, USGS Web Application Developer
  • Nathaniel Plant - Coastal Scientist, USGS Research Oceanographer
  • Hilary Stockdon - Coastal Scientist, USGS Research Oceanographer

The USGS iCoast project is funded by the Coastal and Marine Geology Program (CMGP) and the National Geospatial Program (NGP) through the Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science (CEGIS).

Open Source and iCoast

Fork iCoast on GitHub

Unless otherwise noted below, this software is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the United States Geological Survey, an agency of the United States Department of Interior. For more information, see the official USGS copyright policy


References to or use of non-U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) products does not constitute an endorsement by the DOI.

Geocoding: Location names derived using the GeoNames Gazetteer. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
ToolTips: TipTipMIT and GPL Licenses
Zoom Tool: Elevate Zoom. Dual licensed: MIT and GPL Licenses
Map Marker Clustering: Leaflet.markerclusterMIT License
Map Search: Leaflet.GeoSearchLicense
Form Validation: jQuery Validation PluginMIT License
Map Markers: Map Icons CollectionCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License