2,000 Miles of Ocean Seafloor and Coastline Imagery Available from the USGS

Elizabeth Borneman


The U.S. Geological Survey has provided a new look at approximately 2,000 miles worth of coastlines and seafloor imagery surrounding the United States. Researchers are “learning the dynamics of the seafloor and how things have changed in the last few decades,” said Nadine Golden, a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey. Being able to get a picture of that is extremely useful.”

The images of the seafloor could help with habitat protection and offer insight into natural disasters.

Mapping the California Coastline With Underwater Cameras

Underwater cameras used by the U.S. Geologic Survey have mapped the California coastline and picked up some great video on the sea life and movement of the physical coastline this year. Thousands of pictures and video clips have been compiled by the survey that allows users to explore portions of the sea floor from their computers.

In addition to mapping the west coast of the United States parts of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are also available to explore online.

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Diver's view of underwater camera in Lake Michigan.
Diver’s view of underwater camera in Lake Michigan. Photo: Scott Dwyer, USGS. Public domain.

Much of the ground covered by the cameras has never been seen or mapped before. The cameras picked up abundant sea life, underwater landscapes, and beautiful coral formations untouched by tourists or even many divers.

This new ocean database is fun to play around on, but it is also integral to continuing scientific research. With the video scientists, marine biologists and geologists (among others) can study the life in the ocean and the physical geography of the sea bed to check for changes and patterns in the things they see.

These videos and pictures provide a cheaper way to do research- scientific organizations don’t have to send their own underwater cameras, scientists or submersibles down to the ocean floor, which can be a very expensive and dangerous venture.

Geologists too benefit from this new look at the sea floor. Since much of the world’s sea floor remains unmapped and unseen, the parts of it we can get a glimpse at are really important for advancing technologies and making inferences as to what other parts of the sea floor might look like.

The research can help scientists determine seafloor composition, habitats, animal life, and other valuable data in addition to crisis management plans in case of an underwater earthquake, temperature fluctuations, or tsunamis.

An aerial showing the coastline with a magenta line and two inset images of underwater seafloor.

The seafloor is a dynamic and ever changing place- animals migrate to and fro, and currents rapidly build and erode massive underwater structures. Scientists now have a more accurate way to map these changes through the work of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The survey made several trips a year to various coastlines in the United States and dropped special cameras behind their boats, which were able to capture life on the sea floor. Cameras took both videos and still pictures while the boat moved at a leisurely 2.3 miles an hour. In good weather that doesn’t sound too bad!

The underwater world isn’t all coral reefs and stunning fish, however. Scientists are equally as interested in the ‘boring’ bits; the bits where the sea floor is muddy and rocky and where fewer animals are about.

These places are important for understanding erosion and coastline change. For example, the coastline of California struggles with a depletion of sand and erosion which drastically changes the look of the sea floor just off the coast. These changes and patterns in sediment flow can help create projections for the future as to what California’s beaches could look like.

Screenshot of the Coastal Video and Photography Portal.
Screenshot of the Coastal Video and Photography Portal.

Benefits of Using Underwater Cameras to Map Coastlines

In addition to mapping erosion rates and sediment levels, other organizations are using the data to conduct research and answer scientific questions previously out of reach. Graduate students in universities around the world can use the data gathered by the U.S. Geological Survey to map the sightings of different organisms and trace their habitats in specific areas.

Additionally, the general public can pose some interesting questions about underwater life that scientists have been previously unable to answer- now, with the availability of these pictures and videos, a myriad of questions can be answered about the vast ocean around us.

The data is also essential for mapping how hurricanes and tropical storms affect areas of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. This information could be used in the future to project where a hurricane could land, what damage that would cause to the surrounding area, and how people can protect themselves against storm surges and other effects of a major storm.

Studies about how hurricanes and tropical storm currents change the geography of the sea floor is also of interest to scientists and marine biologists who research plant and animal life in these affected areas.

Visit: Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.