Dr. Robin McInnes in England is using paintings made almost 200 years ago to track erosion of beaches on the Hampshire coastline and the Isle of Wight.
From the BBC article:
Dr McInnes began to examine images from the 1770s to the 1920s. From more than 400 paintings, prints and illustrations he drew up a scale to asses how useful such artworks were as coastal engineering tools.
“I looked at issues such as the material and the nature of the media, oil paintings versus prints; generally, water colour allowed the most accurate depiction…Followers of the pre-Raphaelites captured in precise detail this period, it coincided with an interest in geology and natural sciences,” [said McInnes]. He added that the paintings of the period were not just a tool for categorising physical change, but also environmental and developmental issues.
“Many artists returned to the same spot to capture the same scenes over a period of years. The study shows how Victorian development has radically changed the coastline; it’s nice to strip it back because it helps you understand what might be the underlying problems of erosion and instability.”
This method is only effective in places with a long history of visual documentation, and as McInnes points out himself a qualitative analysis, but is an effective way to study geological changes, both man-made and through nature. Photographs have been used in California, usually for beach restoration.