Site Survey of the Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory: Backscatter, Grain Size and Temporal Evolution of Rippled Scour Depressions


The Office of Naval Research's Mine Burial Prediction program has chosen the Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO) as a natural laboratory for experimental observations of object burial by nearshore processes (e.g., bedform migration, scour). In support of this program, the MVCO has been subject to an intensive site survey program, involving, since early 2001: (1) three swath backscatter and/or bathymetry surveys; (2) three high resolution seismic surveys; (3) ultra-high resolution sector-scanning sonar on pole mounts; (4) in situ geotechnical (velocity and resistivity) measurements, (5) grab sampling, and (6) vibracoring. These efforts are concentrated in water depths between ~8 and 18 m, centered on the site of the MVCO permanent node at ~12 m water depth Rippled scour depressions (RSDs) are pervasive within the MVCO. RSDs are ~shore-perpendicular bands of coarse sands separated by overlying fine sands. The term itself implies that the coarse sands are heavily rippled (~0.5-1 m wavelength, ~0.1 m amplitude) and slightly depressed relative to the fine sands which, in the MVCO, are generally just a few 10's of cm thick. The RSDs are clearly evident on sidescan data as bands of high backscatter. For the most part, grain size measurements confirm a strong positive correspondence between mean grain size and backscatter intensity. However, a critical exception is seen in deeper water where, well within the area of fine sands, backscatter increases noticeably as mean grain size decreases from ~150μ to ~130μ. Topographic expression related to the RSDs is confined primarily to evident scour depressions at the edges. The RSDs are highly asymmetric: backscatter is higher, the coarse/fine transition is more sharply defined, and the scour depression is deeper on one side than the other. This pattern changes within the survey: the higher backscatter edge is always to the west in the western part of the survey, and vice versa to the east. The strike of the RSDs also changes, from being slightly east of north in the western part of the survey to slightly west of north to the east. The MVCO site survey work establishes a baseline set of observations against which physical changes in the seafloor with time can be measured. Early evidence of significant change has been provided by comparison of the first two sidescan surveys, which indicates a shift in the RSD boundaries by as much as 50 m between February and September of 2001. Continued seafloor evolution is evidenced by the August 2002 grab sampling and sector scanning sonar. This dynamic setting will continue to be monitored by additional swath mapping and sampling in conjunction with the planned winter 2003/2004 mine burial experiment.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)


83, Issue 47

Conference Date

Dec 6 - Dec 10, 2002

Publisher Place

San Francisco, CA, USA


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type

Conference Proceeding