Trail Closure

At Kirby Park, the accessible trail remains closed due to storm damage.

Time Traveling Through Elkhorn Slough

1931 closeup after

Elkhorn Slough, 1931 (upgraded version).

byElkhorn Slough Team
onFebruary 14, 2024

Ten years ago, Reserve and Foundation staff partnered with Google Earth ("the world's most detailed globe") to incorporate historical images of Elkhorn Slough. As cool as it was to be able to "time travel" virtually through these aerial photographs and explore changes in the landscape over time, the images didn’t extend much beyond the slough, and they were riddled with positional errors and inconsistencies in color and contrast.

This January, after more than six months of work by nine different people (and the UCSC Library Digital Collections team), we successfully completed a major upgrade of this historical imagery catalogue. Content now available for public viewing includes photographs from 1931, 1937, 1940, 1949, 1956, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1995 (during major flooding), and 2001. Overall, we roughly doubled the area covered, quadrupled the number of years represented, greatly improved positional accuracy, and made image color and contrast more consistent.

1931 closeup before
Elkhorn Slough, 1931 (original version)

Among other things, these changes vastly improve our ability to perform historic landscape analysis, informing everything from land management and habitat restoration planning to research on water quality, vegetation, and sedimentation.

To view historical images yourself

These images are free to the public, but they aren’t available in the online or mobile versions of Google Earth—you have to download Google Earth Pro.

Once you launch the application, click on the “Historical Imagery” button at the top of the viewer window (see below) and start exploring!

Historical imagery button
Historical imagery button in the Google Earth Pro toolbar.

Quick Tips for navigating in Google Earth

  • It's easier to navigate using a mouse.
  • Use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out.
  • Click and hold down the wheel while moving the mouse to tilt and rotate the scene.
  • To exaggerate the topography, go to Tools > Options > Elevation Exaggeration (our GIS expert Charlie recommends 1.5 or more).
  • The "R" key will bring you back to top-down and north up.
  • Imagery years are shown in the lower right.

Big shout out to everyone who worked on this—Kevin Contreras, Andrea Woolfolk, Charlie Endris, Kerstin Wasson, John Haskins, Hann Osborne, Tobias Osborne, Coleman Woolfolk, and Kadin Riggs.

Shout out to Eric Van Dyke, as well, who began assembling many of these historical photographs at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve long before Google Earth existed. You can read the seminal paper he and Kerstin Wasson published on the historical ecology of Elkhorn Slough here.

Happy mapping!

Seal laying in salt marsh

Photo by Kiliii Yuyan

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