Using & Georeferencing Historical Aerials

by Joe Costa

Related pages: Eelgrass Historical Changes Page   |   Eelgrass photo interpretation

Subpage: Historical Aerial Surveys SE Mass

Uses of Historical Vertical Aerial Photographs

The Buzzards Bay NEP has used archival aerial photographs from various sources to document changes in eelgrass abundance, changes in land use, the filling of wetlands, and evaluation of shoreline changes. Like many others we use digitally georeferenced imagery from MassGIS and other sources, but we have we have also used unpublished or limited availability aerial surveys where we have scanned contact prints and georeferenced the imagery. We have set up this page to help graduate students, planners, and GIS professionals with guidance and links on how to tap into the vast unused historical aerial image resource that exists both in the private sector and at state, local government agencies.  Many agencies and companies still maintain film archives from which digital prints can be ordered. Go to our Sources of Historical Aerial Photographs page to learn more.

Satellite imagery versus aerial photographs

Many of the low altitude large scale vertical imagery available on websites like Google are actually aerial photographs, despite the fact that they may be mislabeled or misconstrued by the viewer as satellite or “spy-satellite” imagery. Most publicly available or free satellite imagery is at a scale to have limited use to local planners, since pixel sizes are typically 50 feet or more. Some satellite imagery can be used for regional planning evaluations, and some imagery is at a higher resolution.

Early Charts of Buzzards Bay

1778 Nautical Map of Buzzards Bay.
1778 Nautical Map of Buzzards Bay to Chatam, MA

(Des Barres map; opens Library of Congress Website)

1779 update of 1778 above map

(opens Library of Congress Website)

1776 Nautical Map of Buzzards Bay.
1776 Nautical Map of Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound

(Des Barres map; opens Library of Congress Website)

Nautical Chart, Boston to Rhode Island.
1775 Nautical Chart, Boston to Rhode Island.

(Charles Blaskowitz map; opens Library of Congress Website)

New Bedford 1846 Chart

Sources of Aerial Photographs, and Buzzards Bay Survey Dates

Some of the aerial surveys listed in the table below were conducted as part of national efforts (for example, US Geological Survey or US Department of Agriculture aerial assessments). Others were performed for some special state or local assessment. Where available, links are provided to the agencies website.

Links to Historical Aerial Repositories (non-commercial)

MassGIS (MA only)

USGS Earth Explorer

USGS Store

USGS: EROS Data Center Aerial Photographs

USDA Digital Gateway

USDA FSA Aerial Photography Field Office

NOAA Data Explorer

NOAA Aerial Photography and Shoreline Mapping

NOAA Aerial Photography Search

NOAA Aerial Photography Search #2

NOAA Digital Coast page

NOAA Historical Aerial Photography Orders (film scan orders)

NOAA Hurricane Sandy Photos

National Archives: Ordering Reproductions of Maps, Plans, and Aerial Photographs

Library of Congress Geography & Map Reading Room

key to bottom type on old nautical chart
Key to bottom type on old nautical chart.Oyster Reef on old nautical chart
Oyster Reef shown on an 1882 Sippican Harbor nautical chart.

Historic Maps

NOAA nautical chart survey sheets

NOAA nautical chart survey T sheets subpage

NOAA Historical Nautical Charts

NOAA Office of Coast Survey’s Historical Map & Charts

An under appreciated element of old nautical charts is that oyster reefs and eelgrass beds (“Grass”) are sometimes indicated. These demarcations were most common on maps from the late 19th century.

Online Aerial Viewers

Google Maps

Google Earth

USGS Earth Explorer

Online Data Viewers

NOAA’s Data Explorer

NOAA’s NGS Data Explorer

NOAA’s NGS Data Explorer

NOAA’s Shoreline Data Explorer

Georeferencing Vertical Aerial Photography

USGS Report Georeferencing Scanned Maps

McGill University Georectifying images in ArcGIS 9.xFile

Creation of a Geodatabase of the Digital Aerial Photography Archives for the Greater Everglades of South Florida and the Southern Inland and Coastal System

Historic Aerial Photography of the Greater Everglades Archive and Geodatabase Development

Geo-Referencing Historical Aerial Photography of Texas

Harvard school of design: Georeferencing Images in GIS

Columbia University: Georeference an image in ArcGIS

ESRI posted paper: Digital Orthophotography and GIS