Remote Sensing Coastal Change
Science Center Objects
We use remote-sensing technologies—such as aerial photography, satellite imagery, and lidar (laser-based surveying)—to measure coastal change along U.S. shorelines.
Quantifying coastal change is essential for calculating trends in erosion, evaluating processes that shape coastal landscapes, and predicting how the coast will respond to future storms and sea-level rise, all critical for U.S. coastal communities.
Rapid developments have occurred in remote-sensing technologies during the 21st century. With our collaborators in and beyond the Department of the Interior, we seek to apply these technologies in innovative ways to advance understanding of coastal systems and their hazards.
Using video imagery to study coastal change
Currently, video cameras overlook the coast in four locations, along beaches in Washington, California, and Florida. More locations are planned. Current video camera locations are:
- atop the Dream Inn hotel in Santa Cruz, California, overlooking the coast in northern Monterey Bay
- at Sunset State Beach in Santa Cruz, California, overlooking the coast in northern Monterey Bay
- atop a building overlooking the coast at Isla Verde in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- atop a windmill tower in Unalakleet, Alaska, overlooking Norton Sound
- along a beach on Whidbey Island, Washington at the northern boundary of Puget Sound
- atop buildings at Madeira Beach and Sand Key, Florida, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico coast
USGS researchers analyze the imagery and video collected from these cameras in order to remotely sense a range of processes, which include:
- 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 remote locations. The knowledge gained will improve computer-derived simulations of coastal flooding and shoreline change that communities can use to plan for sea-level rise, changing storm patterns, and other threats to beaches.
The Mud Creek landslide on California’s Big Sur coast
On May 20, 2017, the steep slopes at Mud Creek on California’s Big Sur coast, about 140 miles south of San Francisco, suffered a catastrophic collapse. USGS Scientists from the Pacific Coastal and Marine and the Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Centers are monitoring this section of the coastline, in collaboration with the California Department of Transportation.