National Research Program

U.S. Geological Survey
Fact Sheet 2007-3046
version 1.0

The Desert Laboratory Repeat Photography Collection—An Invaluable Archive Documenting Landscape Change

By Robert H. Webb, Diane E. Boyer, Raymond M. Turner, and Stephen H. Bullock


two photos of the same river scene
Views of Three Fords Rapid on the Green River in Desolation Canyon, Utah. The river, which is flowing right to left, is relatively wide and split into two channels in a photo taken in 1909 (top image). At some time in the intervening 89 years before the bottom image was taken, a debris flow from Three Fords Canyon East (behind the photographer to the right) deposited sediment into the Green River, greatly reducing the width of Three Fords Rapid. (Top photo courtesy of Northern Arizona University Cline Library.)


The Desert Laboratory Repeat Photography Collection, the largest collection of its kind in the world, is housed at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Tucson, Arizona. The collection preserves thousands of photos taken precisely in the same places but at different times. This archive of “repeat photographs” documents changes in the desert landscape and vegetation of the American Southwest, and also includes images from northwestern Mexico and Kenya. These images are an invaluable asset to help understand the effects of climate variation and land-use practices on arid and semiarid environments.

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