Sea Beam multibeam bathymetric data have greatly advanced understanding of the deep seafloor. However, several types of bathymetric artifacts have been identified in Sea Beam's contoured output. Surveys with many overlapping swaths and digital recording on magnetic tape of Sea Beam's 16 acoustic returns made it possible to evaluate actual system performance. The artifacts are not due to the contouring algorithm used. Rather, they result from errors in echo detection and processing. These errors are due to internal factors such as side lobe interference, bottom-tracking gate malfunctions, or external interference from other sound sources (e.g., 3.5 kHz echo sounders or seismic sound sources). Although many artifacts are obviously spurious and would be disregarded, some (particularly the "omega" effects described in this paper) are more subtle and could mislead the unwary observer. Artifacts observed could be mistaken for volcanic constructs, abyssal hill trends, hydrothermal mounds, slump blocks, or channels and could seriously affect volcanic, tectonic, or sedimentological interpretations. Misinterpretation of these artifacts may result in positioning errors when seafloor bathymetry is used to navigate the ship. Considering these possible geological misinterpretations, a clear understanding of the Sea Beam system's capabilities and limitations is deemed essential.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Journal of Geophysical Research


91, Issue B3



Publisher Place

Washington DC, USA


American Geophysical Union Publications

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type

Journal Article


Copyright 1986 by the American Geophysical Union