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Thousands of photographs and videos of the seafloor and coastline—most areas never seen before—are now easily accessible online.

Thousands of photographs and videos of the seafloor and coastline—most areas never seen before—are now easily accessible online. This imagery, available through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal, will help coastal managers to make important decisions, ranging from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.

screenshot: USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal
Screenshot from the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal showing examples of imagery from the west coast of Florida. Zooming into an area of interest reveals lines (red) where continuous video footage was acquired and dots (blue) where still photographs were taken. Clicking on a segment launches the video in a pop-up window. Photographs appear above the video, changing as the video passes each point where a photograph was taken.

This USGS portal is unique, due to the sheer quantity and quality of data presented. It is the largest database of its kind, providing detailed and fine-scale representations of the coast. The “geospatial context” is also unique, with maps displaying imagery in the exact location where it was recorded.

Before development of the data portal, retrieving this imagery required internal USGS access with specific hardware and software. It was difficult to manage and challenging to share such a large amount of information.

“The USGS has been dedicated to developing a system that allows for convenient communication internally as well as to outside collaborators and the public. We want a wide range of users to be able to access our abundance of coastal and seafloor imagery,” said USGS geographer Nadine Golden, lead principal investigator for the USGS portal. “The portal makes it easy for users to discover, obtain, and disseminate information.”

The new portal contains coverage of the seafloor off California and Massachusetts, and aerial imagery of the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and mid-Atlantic coasts. Additional video and photographs will be added as they are collected, and archived imagery will also be incorporated over time. Areas of future focus include data sets for Washington State’s Puget Sound, Hawai‘i, and the Arctic.

Information in this portal assists the creation of coastal maps and representations of seafloor composition and habitats. It provides references for short- and long-term monitoring of changes to the coast, whether from anthropogenic modifications or natural occurrences. Hurricanes and extreme storms are of particular concern, and USGS imagery helps managers, emergency responders, and researchers understand circumstances before, during, and after such events. It supports the assessment of other critical hazards as well, such as coastal flooding and sea-level rise, earthquakes, and tsunamis.

Data accessed through the portal also support coastal and marine spatial planning, including evaluation of sites for renewable ocean energy facilities and the development of communities and infrastructure. USGS science helps designate marine protected areas, define habitats, identify needs for ecosystem restoration, and inform regional sediment-management decisions.

In total, approximately 100,000 photographs have been posted as well as 1,000 hours of trackline video covering almost 2,000 miles of coastline. Imagery was taken by video and still cameras towed by boat or operated from aircraft. Every video and photograph is in the public domain.

This effort supports the National Ocean Policy mandate to provide access to federal data resources (“Executive Order 13547—Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes”).

Take a Look

Seafloor photo with seastars
Boulders and biota off San Gregorio, California, in water approximately 30 meters (100 feet) deep. Organisms include bat stars, small sea anemones, strawberry anemone, cup corals, and frilly sea cucumbers. Two green laser dots are 15 centimeters (6 inches) apart; lefthand dot is at bottom center of photograph, righthand dot is on upper right edge of lowermost frilly sea cucumber.

How does the portal work? Start with the tutorial, and then dive in!

A successful pilot interactive website offering video and photographs of the seafloor off California was launched in 2013 (“California Seafloor Mapping Reveals Hidden Treasures”). Experience with the California website assisted construction of the newly released portal, which includes access to the imagery in this earlier website.

USGS iCoast – Did the Coast Change?” is a crowdsourcing application that allows citizen scientists to identify changes to the coast by comparing aerial photographs taken before and after storms. The photographs used in iCoast are also accessible through the new Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.

Media Coverage

Soon after its release on March 18, 2015, the Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal began attracting media attention. For example, see “Scientists explore 2,000 miles of the ocean floor—and you can too” in the Los Angeles Times, and “Dive into 2,000 miles of coastline imagery with U.S. Geological Survey” in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Learn more about USGS coastal and ocean science.

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