Detecting bedform migration in Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire, USA, on relatively short spatial and temporal scales


Multibeam echosounder (MBES) systems have enjoyed recent popularity as a tool in bedform-migration studies due to their ability to produce high-resolution seafloor imagery with complete bottom coverage. Although shallow-water MBES systems may achieve decimeter-scale data resolution, the use of MBES to successfully detect and quantify bedform migration on short time-scales (days to weeks) where the migration distance is relatively small (< 1 m) remains limited by positioning uncertainty. In this study we evaluate short-term bedform migration and sediment transport in a bedform field at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire, USA. Bedform dynamics over 24-hour and multi-day periods were determined from high-resolution bathymetry (0.25 m grid resolution) acquired with a Kongsberg EM3002D MBES system. Position, heading and attitude data were acquired with an Applanix POS/MV system with integrated real-time kinematic GPS correctors, providing a horizontal positioning uncertainty of < 0.1 m at the GPS receiver. MBES surveys were conducted on June 8, 14 and 15 in 2007 and July 3 and 9 in 2008. Acoustic current meters were deployed at two stations within the survey area in 2008 to provide simultaneous observations of current velocities at a height of 1 m above the bottom. A new approach was developed and used for detecting and quantifying bedform migration from the bathymetry. Our approach utilizes a ridge-extraction algorithm to derive a binary map of dune-crest positions from the bathymetric surface, and then calculates the displacements of small (6.25 m2) subsets of dune crest. Preliminary results indicate that bedform migrations of ≥ 0.1 m were successfully resolved. Morphology of the bedform field is dominated by medium and large, two-dimensional, asymmetrical subaqueous dunes (0.4 to 0.8 m height, 8 to 16 m wavelength). Small, two-dimensional, ebb-oriented subaqueous dunes (0.3 m height, 5 m wavelength) line the eastern margin of the bedform field, which is adjacent to the channel thalweg. Initial analysis indicates that bedforms are active on 24-hour and multi-day cycles, with migrations of > 1.2 m observed on multi-day cycles. The highest bedform-migration rates are observed along the eastern margin where smaller dunes occur. In 2007 we observed a reciprocal pattern of bedform migration, in which dunes in the western half of the bedform field migrated in a net flood (northward) direction and dunes in the eastern half migrated in a net ebb (southward) direction. In 2008, the eastern dune population was still active and southward-migrating, though the western half of the bedform field appeared to be inactive. The observed pattern of bedform migration is supported by current-meter data from six tidal cycles (spring tidal conditions) during the 2008 experiment, which reveal a strong cross-channel difference in the flood and ebb currents. The data indicate ebb-current dominance in the eastern half of the study area and flood-current dominance in the western half of the study area. Individual bedforms cannot be tracked over the annual period (2007 to 2008) without a higher survey-repetition rate, suggesting that annual migration distances are comparable with or greater than the bedform wavelength, and/or that bedform morphology changes significantly over time-scales shorter than one year

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Journal or Conference Title

Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union (AGU)


89 (53)

Conference Date

Dec 15 - Dec 19, 2008

Publisher Place

San Francisco, CA, USA


American Geophysical Union Publications

Document Type

Conference Proceeding