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Along some coastlines, long, narrow islands stand guard. These barrier islands are attractive to tourists, but they also protect the mainland coast from storm surge and are important beach, dune, and marsh habitats. Those islands do take a beating though.

These images focus on the southeastern elbow of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Wave action, currents, winds, and tides are constantly changing the barrier islands here. Strong storms can change them quite suddenly.

In 1984, a nearly unbroken barrier island lines the Massachusetts coast at Chatham. To the south, Monomoy Island extends into the ocean like a teardrop. The other subsections of this Earthshots page show over 35 years of changes to these barrier islands as seen by three different Landsat satellites.


Every picture has a story to tell
June 12, 1984, Landsat 5 (path/row 11/31) — Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA
Aug. 11, 2023, Landsat 8 (path/row 11/31) — Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA


Additional story information


Carlowicz, Michael, 2014, Coastline Change: NASA Earth Observatory World of Change article, available at (Accessed January 27, 2015.)

NPS, 2015, Cape Cod National Seashore: National Park Service Web page at (Accessed January 27, 2015.)

Thieler, E.R., Smith, T.L., Knisel, J.M., and Sampson, D.W., 2013, Massachusetts Shoreline Change Mapping and Analysis Project, 2013 Update: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1189, 42 p.,

USFWS, 2009, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brochure, available online at

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