A Line in the Sand

May 23, 2014

This last March marked three years of collecting images in the Platte Basin. I like to think of this anniversary as a line in the sand, a turning point for what the Platte Basin Timelapse project is and can be.

The first image ever taken from a field camera was on March 9th 2011 near Kearney NE on the central Platte River. We have come a long way since that first image.

Last Three Years

During these few years, our team, with the help of TRLCam, has deployed more than 40 timelapse cameras throughout the entire Platte River watershed (see map). Each camera takes a photograph every daylight hour of every day.

Up to this point, we have primarily been a tech company, putting cameras in the field and producing myriad of timelapse videos, which let us see an entire watershed in motion. Covering parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado, these 90,000 square miles make for a diverse and spectacular stage to capture processes on the landscape. The 40+ videos on our current website demonstrate this well. But what can we do with this visual data?

With consistent, up-to-date technology and workflows well in place, we have begun to expand our team and identify several deliverables: collecting a visual database, building curriculum for educators, and telling compelling stories in digital forms, from online articles to a documentary film.

Starting in 2011, we have deployed over 40 cameras throughout the Platte River watershed. Each camera takes one photograph every hour of every day, visually documenting changes on the landscape.

A Visual Dataset

We like to think of the last three years of collected images as a visual dataset—a dataset we hope will attract the scientific community. Images offer an increasingly efficient and effective method for scientists to communicate their research to the public. Additionally, the use of repeat photography is becoming a popular method for in situ remote sensing.

With that in mind, we’ve partnered with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Jeffery S. Raikes School for Computer Science and Management, under a grant from The Daugherty Water for Food Institute, to develop Phocalstream. This open-sourced software is a web-based image explorer that brings the Platte Basin to life in a whole new way. Once fully developed, users will be able to search, sort, and catalogue our complete image dataset, and then build their own timelapse sequence that can be paired with matching time- and location-specific drought, weather, and flow data. This innovative technology will offer immense teaching and learning opportunities for scientists and students alike.

A camera on Mormon Island near Grand Island NE has taken a photograph every hour of every day for the last three years. With it, we’ve observed groundwater rising and falling, cows grazing, and grass growing, visualizing a very dynamic place that is difficult to see without regular visit.

The Geography Textbook

We imagine students will be excited to interact with our image dataset, learning about weather and climate, river processes, wildlife habitat, and water use. With grant support from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, we are forming partnerships with science curriculum developers who will help us create innovative media approaches to bring the Platte Basin Timelapse project into classrooms. The geography textbook will come to life, inspiring a new generation of scientists, artists, and community leaders.


Ultimately, we are storytellers. The stories we’re telling are about our water. Where does it come from? How is it used and managed? Who makes these decisions? And why? Through still and timelapse photography, video, audio, and interactive graphics and maps, we can examine the growing and competing demands of water in agriculture, municipalities, power generation, recreation, and wildlife in the Platte Basin.

Where We Go From Here

We have seen quite a bit the last three years, and they have taught us much more. We saw a watershed swing from bare river beds to flooded banks and we evolved with timelapse technology and its use in remote conditions. In this next year, securing continued funding, increasing our staff size, and solidifying deliverables, you can expect to see something a bit different out of us.

Visit our site to learn more and stayed tuned for continued developments.


See a version of this blog post in the spring issue of the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance newsletter.




PBT team photo. Summer 2023

About PBT

We are a group of storytellers using timelapse photography and multimedia storytelling to explore watersheds. PBT has been in motion since 2011.

Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about stories, projects, and other things we’ve been up to.

You have Successfully Subscribed!