USGS - science for a changing world

Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Remote Sensing Coastal Change

Introduction

Beach lidar

USGS scientists survey a beach near San Francisco to assist with a comparison of data derived from aerial photos and lidar. Photo by Jonathan Warrick, USGS [Larger version]

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.

Co-Primary Investigators:

Jonathan A. Warrick, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Christopher Sherwood, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Nathaniel Plant, St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Andrew Ritchie, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Photograph of Gerry Hatcher with the camera system he helped create for recording the precise time and geographic location of each air photo it takes.

USGS ocean engineer Gerry Hatcher with the camera system he helped create for recording the precise time and geographic location of each air photo it takes. The system is mounted in the cargo compartment of a Cessna 182R airplane and takes photos through a window cut into a removable cargo door (right). USGS scientists analyze the photos with “structure-from-motion” software to identify and measure coastal change. Photo by Jonathan Warrick, USGS [Larger version]

Photograph of the airplane used for collecting air photos that USGS scientists analyze to measure coastal change.

Cessna 182R airplane used for collecting air photos that USGS scientists analyze to measure coastal change. Photo by Jonathan Warrick, USGS [Larger version]

 

News

November 2017

3D point cloud images looking at the Mud Creek slide, first image from airplane photo and second from drone.

This animation alternates between two Mud Creek 3D images, one derived from a photo collected by airplane on June 13, 2017, and one derived from video footage collected by drone October 12, 2017 [Larger version]

LA Times story about Big Sur landslide features quotes, imagery from USGS

USGS geologists Jon Warrick (Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center) and Kevin Schmidt (Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center) are quoted in a November 9 Los Angeles Times story titled “Highway 1 was buried under a massive landslide. Months later, engineers battle Mother Nature to fix it.” The story takes readers to Mud Creek on California’s Big Sur coast, where millions of tons of rock and dirt slid toward the ocean last May. It details some of the steps that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is taking to stabilize the slide and rebuild the road. Among the illustrations are 3D images of the landslide constructed by Warrick. He and Schmidt have been studying slides along the Big Sur coast and sharing their findings with Caltrans.

 

USGS air photo of the Mud Creek landslide, taken on May 27, 2017.

USGS air photo of the Mud Creek landslide, taken on May 27, 2017. Read the entire Sound Waves newletter article.

USGS Monitors Huge Landslides on California’s Big Sur Coast, Shares Information with California Department of Transportation

On May 20, 2017, more than 2 million cubic meters of rock and dirt—enough to fill a line of dump trucks nearly a thousand miles long—collapsed down the steep slopes at Mud Creek on California’s Big Sur coast, about 140 miles south of San Francisco. A pile of rubble almost a third of a mile wide buried California State Highway 1 more than 65 feet deep and added about 13 acres of new land to the coast.
The catastrophic collapse followed a prolonged period of slower movement, which was being monitored by USGS scientists in cooperation with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Several times since March 2017, for example, USGS scientists had collected air photos along this stretch of coast. That team, led by research geologist Jon Warrick, uses “structure-from-motion” software to transform air photos into 3D maps, or digital elevation models, that they use to precisely measure changes in ground elevation.

Read the entire Sound Waves newletter article.

 

Gerry Hatcher, left, and Shawn Harrison work on their video camera station atop a hotel in Santa Cruz, California. Photo by Shawn Harrison, USGS

Gerry Hatcher (left) and Shawn Harrison work on their video camera station atop a hotel in Santa Cruz, California. Photo by Shawn Harrison, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, USGS

Eyes on the Coast—Video Cameras Help Forecast Coastal Change

Coastal communities count on beaches for recreation and for protection from large waves, but beaches are vulnerable to threats such as erosion by storms and flooding. Whether beaches grow, shrink, or even disappear depends in part on what happens just offshore. How do features like shifting sandbars affect waves, currents, and the movement of sand from the beach to offshore and back?

Read the USGS News Story.

Read the USGS Sound Waves newsletter article.

 

A series of images from various sources of shaded-relief topography show the progression of the Mud Creek landslide area, from 2010 through October 12, 2017.

Animation shows a series of images of the Mud Creek slide, dating from a 2010 lidar image through the latest drone video from October 12, 2017.

 

October 2017

3D map of Mud Creek slide derived from video footage collected by drone on October 12, 2017.

3D map of Mud Creek slide derived from video footage collected by drone on October 12, 2017 [Larger version]

Video shot from drones yields details about changing landslide on California’s Big Sur coast

On October 12, USGS drones collected video footage of the Mud Creek landslide, which buried California State Highway 1 under a third-of-a-mile-wide mass of rock and dirt on May 20. USGS scientists have been monitoring the slide by transforming photos shot from an airplane into 3D maps. They applied the same software to the October 12 drone footage, producing detailed views of how the slide mass has changed. The scientists share their findings with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to help that agency assess the slide and plan reconstruction of Highway 1. USGS will continue collecting drone footage of the Mud Creek landslide to supplement broader coverage provided by photos shot during airplane flights along the central California coast. View provisional imagery from the October drone flights:

October 12 drone flight, part 1 [4.8 MB pdf]
October 12 drone flight, part 2 [2 MB pdf]
October 12 drone flight, part 3 [24.8 MB pdf]

 

July 11, 2017

We mapped the underwater part of the Mud Creek landslide and the surrounding seafloor on July 11 and are currently processing data. Here’s a view of the slide from the research vessel Snavely. [Larger version]

Photograph taken from offshore of the Mud Creek landslide, from the USGS vessell Snavely, on July 11, 2017.

Huge landslide on California’s Big Sur coast continues to change

The Mud Creek landslide on California’s Big Sur coast keeps eroding, as seen in air photos taken June 26. USGS scientists have been collecting and analyzing air photos about every two weeks, weather permitting, since the slide occurred on May 20. Maps derived from the June 26 photos show continued movement on the slide’s upper slopes and accelerating erosion at its toe. Since May 27, the 13-acre bulge of new land created by the slide has lost about 2 acres to wave erosion at its seaward edge, while material has accumulated on the beaches beside it. The latest photos also captured new roads built by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to monitor and sample the slide. View provisional imagery: 11 MB PDF.

 

Graphic showing change in topography at the Big Sur landslide, from May 27 to June 13.

New Land Created by Landslide on Big Sur Coast Beginning to Erode

USGS analysis of air photos collected June 13 shows that new land created by a May 20 landslide on California’s Big Sur coast is eroding. The large slide buried State Highway 1 beneath more than 65 feet of rock and dirt, and created about 13 acres of new land bulging into the ocean. Between May 27 and June 13, the seaward edge of the landslide retreated about 16 feet. USGS scientists collect air photos of the slide area weekly to biweekly as weather permits. They use “structure-from-motion” software to turn the photos into 3D maps from which they measure changes in ground elevation. View provisional imagery, available at low resolution (22.2 MB pdf).

 

Big Sur Landslide fly around from May 27, 2017, a preliminary computer animation. The slide created roughly 13 acres of new California land.

USGS photo of the Big Sur landslide, taken May 27, 2017. The slide created roughly 13 acres of new California land. [Watch an animation]

New images and analysis helping Caltrans monitor Big Sur landslide

USGS scientists are analyzing before and after air photos of a gigantic May 20 landslide on California’s Big Sur coast, about 140 miles south of San Francisco. Preliminary calculations indicate that the landslide moved approximately 2 million cubic meters of material, enough to fill a 900-mile convoy of dump trucks. It buried State Highway 1 more than 20 meters (65 feet) deep and added more than 50,000 square meters (about 13 acres) of new land to the coast. USGS scientists shot air photos of the Big Sur coast in March and May 2017. Using “structure-from-motion” software, they transformed these and earlier photos into 3D maps that allow them to precisely measure changes in ground elevation. They plan to keep monitoring the slide area via weekly airplane flights and, starting in June, drone flights. They are sharing information with California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) engineers assessing the slide. View additional images of the landslide, available at high resolution (56.6 MB pdf) and low resolution (7.5 MB pdf).

 

More News

Highway 1 was buried under a massive landslide. Months later, engineers battle Mother Nature to fix it.
Los Angeles Times, November 2017

Mud Creek Slide is still moving. And geologists are using lasers and 3-D models to track it.
The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, CA), June 2017

Big Sur’s brave new routes cross epic landslide
The Mercury News, June 2017

“Is Big Sur’s Highway 1 worth saving?”
   • The Mercury News, June 2017
   • Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 2017

Growing media coverage of USGS work on huge Big Sur landslide USGS geologists
USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, June 2017

A 2 million cubic meter landslide in California, before and after images
Quartz, June 2017

Big Sur landslide creates enough debris to fill 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools
KTVU, June 2017

The Big Sur landslide that buried the Pacific Coast Highway under a million tons of rock and dirt has added 13 ACRES to the California coastline
UK Daily Mail, June 2017

Engineers work to figure out how to repair iconic Calif. highway
CBS Evening News, June 2017

“California Is Now 13 Acres Bigger”
Fox News U.S., June 2017
Newser, June 2017

Gigantic Big Sur Landslide ‘Could Have Filled 800 Olympic-Sized Swimming Pools:’ USGS
NBC Los Angeles, June 2017

“Massive Big Sur landslide added 13 acres to coast”
   • KRON 4, June 2017
   • KSBW 8, June 2017
   • Monterey Herald, May 2017
   • LA Times, May 2017
   • Santa Rosa Press Democrat, May 2017

“Big Sur landslide adds 13 acres to California coastline”
CNN, June 2017
KTLA 5, June 2017

Landslide adds 13 acres to California coast
WMC Action News 5, Memphis, TN, June 2017

California landslide adds 13 acres to coast
UPI, June 2017

Landslide buries California's scenic highway near Big Sur
Click Lancashire, June 2017

USGS maps, measures huge landslide on California’s Big Sur coast
USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, May 2017

USGS helping to monitor and assess huge Big Sur landslide
USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, May 2017

Video cameras provide low-cost way to study processes that shape beaches
USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, May 2017

 

^ Top of page

News

Eyes on the Coast—Video Cameras Help Forecast Coastal Change
Gerry Hatcher, left, and Shawn Harrison work on their video camera station atop a hotel in Santa Cruz, California. Photo by Shawn Harrison, USGS

Read more news

Provisional imagery from USGS flights in 2017,
Big Sur landslide

October 12 drone flight, part 1
[4.8 MB pdf]
October 12 drone flight, part 2
[2 MB pdf]
October 12 drone flight, part 3
[24.8 MB pdf]
June 26 flight, low resolution
[11 MB pdf]
June 13 flight, low resolution
[22.2 MB pdf]
May 27 flight, high resolution
[56.6 MB pdf]
May 27 flight, low resolution
[7.5 MB pdf]

Video and Animation

Animation of shaded-relief imagery of the Mud Creek landslide area along Big Sur coast, California, 2010-2017
Thumbnail of first slide of animation.

Drone footage of the Mud Creek Landslide along Big Sur coast, California, on July 19, 2017
Screenshot from drone footage looking southward along the Mud Creek slide on July 19, 2017.

Remote sensing beach processes

Using video imagery to study coastal change:

Santa Cruz, California
Example of time-averaged image of Santa Cruz.

Madeira Beach, Florida
Example of time-averaged image of Madeira Beach.

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
URL: https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/remote-sensing/
Page Contact Information: Laura Zink Torresan
(lzt)