Google Earth Timelapse: viewing our changing coastlines

Ben Matson
Swellnet Analysis

Just over four years ago, Swellnet published an article entitled "Skeleton Bay: The Death of a Wave Foretold". Its opening stanza was bold:

Skeleton Bay, the world's most perfect and thought provoking sand-bottom left hand point break may not exist in twenty years time.

Given the plethora of incredible POV footage that was emerging around that time - following on from the wave's 2008 discovery by American surfer Brian Gable - the concept seemed hard to fathom. But coastal processes occur over long time peroids that easily slip beneath the scrutiny of our short-attention-spanned, social-media trained mindsets. 

Then, in September this year - almost four years to the day - Swellnet published a second article: "Dislocated skeleton: The shifting position of Skeleton Bay".

With the availability of higher resolution satellite imagery, we were able to better approximate how the coastline was changing, relative to the surfing community - not just its northern advance, but also the peel angle, which could ultimately make the wave too fast to surf.

And now, even more incredible evidence has emerged of the rapidly evolving coastal processes at Skeleton Bay - and other locations too.

In the last two weeks, Google released a new product called Google Earth Timelapse. It's a "global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years".

Consisting of 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, it displays one image for each year from 1984 to 2016.

And the results are staggering.

Take a look at Skeleton Bay: 

Note: press play to start the sequence, and it may take some time to load on a slow internet connection. You can also zoom in to get a closer view, or better still - open this link in a new window.

Aside from the changing dynamics at Skeleton Bay, did you observe the boat harbour that sprung up in adjacent Walvis Bay in 2015?

The incredible imagery doesn't stop at Namibia either. Some other gems we've found so far include:

  • The longshore drift north from Fraser Island (clicky)
  • The sea-sawing Murray Mouth (clicky)
  • The snaking tongue of Double Island Point (clicky)
  • Sand mining at North Stradbroke Island (clicky)
  • Superbank accretion from about 2001 onwards (clicky)

I reckon there's weeks of worthwhile procrastination utilising Google's new toy. See you on the other side!


yocal's picture
yocal's picture
yocal commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 1:29pm

Or the deforestation of the Amazon... This could become a powerful tool for humanity.

Go deeper Taylor, go deeper!

Willliam's picture
Willliam's picture
Willliam commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 2:38pm,-1.26537,11,latLng&...

Also, the reduction of snow / ice over Greenland and northern Canada.

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Saturday, 10 Dec 2016 at 11:12pm

Wow, just checked that out. Truly shocking.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 2:02pm

Lagoon Pressing, Arcachon, France:

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 2:14pm

Development of of the Bukit

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 2:29pm

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 2:32pm

How's the creation of Serangan?

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Friday, 9 Dec 2016 at 2:35pm

And the speed of building the bypass rd thru the harbour.........which also may soon be filled ?

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone commented Saturday, 10 Dec 2016 at 6:14pm

my internet o\is sweet yet no images?

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone commented Saturday, 10 Dec 2016 at 6:15pm


i comment and they appear

Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater commented Sunday, 11 Dec 2016 at 6:27am

That time line is pretty well the window i have been going to Bali and it obviously is being hugged to death. I remember surfing Ulu's in 87 and the waves were incredible but the sea life was a standout and abundant. Reef Sharks, Dugongs, Turtles and fish everywhere. I believe they could have managed their progress and kept it sustainable but still maintained their wealth in all areas. The question is can they bring it back?

leking's picture
leking's picture
leking commented Tuesday, 21 Mar 2017 at 3:43am

I am glad that this article actually talked about the problems of coastal erosion because that is so often ignored when discussing the "rising sea levels". The fact is that the global climate has always been dynamic and changes constantly. Man is just a minor influence on the global climate and we have to look at the long term variability of the climate not just the shorter term "man made" climate change.

In one my speeches I talked about towns and villages that were all built on the coast line due to the need to gain access via the sea and their vulnerability. This is quite the problem as well. We also have to realize that the native Inuit peoples of the Arctic Circle were nomadic people and were not creating permanent villages and that might be a part of wisdom to understand the nature of their region and the instability of coastal area due to the variations of the weather during all of the seasons.

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