In the seismic reflection method, it is well known that seismic amplitude varies with the offset between the seismic source and detector and that this variation is a key to the direct determination of lithology and pore fluid content of subsurface strata. Based on this fundamental property, amplitude-versus-offset (AVO) analysis has been used successfully in the oil industry for the exploration and characterization of subsurface reservoirs. Multibeam sonars acquire acoustic backscatter over a wide range of incidence angles and the variation of the backscatter with the angle of incidence is an intrinsic property of the seafloor. Building on this analogy, we have adapted an AVO-like approach for the analysis of acoustic backscatter from multibeam sonar data. The analysis starts with the beam-by-beam time-series of acoustic backscatter provided by the multibeam sonar and then corrects the backscatter for seafloor slope (i.e. true incidence angle), time varying and angle varying gains, and area of insonification. Once the geometric and radiometric corrections are made, a series of “AVO attributes” (e.g. near, far, slope, gradient, fluid factor, product, etc.) are calculated from the stacking of consecutive time series over a spatial scale that approximates half of the swath width (both along track and across track). Based on these calculated AVO attributes and the inversion of a modified Williams, K. L. (2001) acoustic backscatter model, we estimate the acoustic impedance, the roughness, and consequently the grain size of the insonified area on the seafloor. The inversion process is facilitated through the use of a simple, interactive graphical interface. In the process of this inversion, the relative behavior of the model parameters is constrained by established inter-property relationships. The approach has been tested using a 300 kHz Simrad EM3000 multibeam sonar in Little Bay, N.H., an area that we can easily access for ground-truth studies. AVO-derived impedance estimates are compared to in situ measurements of sound speed and AVO-derived grain-size estimates are compared to the direct measurement of grain size on grab samples. Both show a very good correlation indicating the potential of this approach for robust seafloor characterization.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Boundary Influences in High Frequency Shallow Water Acoustics

Conference Date

Sep 5 - Sep 9, 2005

Publisher Place

Bath, UK


University of Bath

Document Type

Conference Proceeding