Bathymetric sonar systems (whether multibeam or phase-differencing sidescan) contain an inherent trade-off between resolution and uncertainty. Systems are traditionally designed with a fixed spatial resolution, and the parameter settings are optimized to minimize the uncertainty in the soundings within that constraint. By fixing the spatial resolution of the system, current generation sonars operate sub-optimally when the SNR is high, producing soundings with lower resolution than is supportable by the data, and inefficiently when the SNR is low, producing high-uncertainty soundings of little value. Here we propose fixing the sounding measurement uncertainty instead, and optimizing the resolution of the system within that uncertainty constraint. Fixing the sounding measurement uncertainty produces a swath with a variable number of bathymetric estimates per ping, in which each estimate’s spatial resolution is optimized by combining measurements only until the desired depth uncertainty is achieved. When the signal to noise ratio is sufficiently high such that the desired depth uncertainty is achieved with individual measurements, bathymetric estimates are produced at the sonar’s full resolution capability. Correspondingly, a sonar’s resolution is no-longer only considered as a property of the sonar (based on, for example, beamwidth and bandwidth,) but now incorporates geometrical aspects of the measurements and environmental factors (e.g., seafloor scattering strength). Examples are shown from both multibeam and phase- differencing sonar systems.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Underwater Acoustics International Conference and Exhibition: Technologies and Results

Conference Date

June 23- June 29, 2013

Publisher Place

Corfu, Greece

Document Type

Conference Proceeding