Barrier Island Shorelines Extracted from Landsat Imagery

Open-File Report 2015-1179



Changes to barrier islands occur at time scales that vary from the few hours it takes an individual storm to pass (Morton, 2008) to the millennia it takes for coastal systems to undergo geologic evolution. Developing an understanding of how barrier islands will respond to climate change, sea level rise, and major storms over a range of time scales is relevant to studies of physical, geological, ecological, and societal processes and will help to guide and improve management of our coastal resources (Sallenger and others, 1987). Observations of coastal processes made over a range of spatial and temporal scales and from a variety of instrument platforms (for example, in situ and remote remote sensing) are required to understand and eventually predict the evolution of coastal systems.

The deployment of Landsat and other earth-observing satellites within the last few decades has provided an opportunity to observe barrier islands at frequent intervals, often many times a year. This sample frequency is much higher and the spatial coverage much greater than most routine high-resolution topographic surveys (Guy and others, 2014). In addition, the historical record of these datasets have become long enough to document shorter- (that is, annual) and longer-term (that is, decadal) changes from a single data source. Certain aspects of barrier island morphology, such as island size, shape, and position, can be determined from these images and can indicate erosion, land loss, and island breakup (McBride and others, 1989; Plant and Guy, 2013).

The shoreline is a common variable used as a metric for coastal erosion or change (Himmelstoss and others, 2010). Although shorelines are often extracted from topographic data (for example, ground-based surveys and light detection and ranging [lidar]), image-based shorelines, corrected for their inherent uncertainties (Moore and others, 2006), have provided much of our understanding of long-term shoreline change because they pre-date routine lidar elevation survey methods. Image-based shorelines continue to be valuable because of their higher temporal resolution compared to costly airborne lidar surveys. A method for extracting sandy shorelines from 30-meter (m) resolution Landsat imagery is presented here.

Suggested Citation

Guy, K.K., 2015, Barrier island shorelines extracted from Landsat imagery: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1179, 3 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Data Acquisition
  • Image Processing
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Barrier Island Shorelines Extracted from Landsat Imagery
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1179
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151179
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description Report: iv, 3 p.; Spatial Data
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y