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

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

“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

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

Landslide image from June 26, 2017.


Provisional imagery from USGS flights in 2017

Big Sur landslide:
   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]


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.

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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)