Accuracy of the Spatial Representation of the Seafloor with Bathymetric Sidescan Sonars


When isobath maps of the seafloor are constructed with a bathymetric sidescan sonar system the position of each sounding is derived from estimates of range and elevation. The location of each pixel forming the acoustic backscatter image is calculated from the same estimates. The accuracy of the resulting maps depends on the acoustic array geometry, on the performances of the acoustic signal processing, and on knowledge of other parameters including: the platform's navigation, the sonar transducer's attitude, and the sound rays' trajectory between the sonar and the seafloor. The relative importance of these factors in the estimation of target location is assesed. The effects of the platform motions (e.g. roll, pitch, yaw, sway, surge and heave) and of the uncertainties in the elevation angle measurements are analyzed in detail. The variances associated with the representation (orientation and depth) of a plane, rectangular patch of the seafloor are evaluated, depending on the geometry of the patch. The inverse problem is addressed. Its solution gives the lateral dimensions of the spatial filter that must be applied to the bathymetric data to obtain specified accuracies of the slopes and depths. The uncertainty in the estimate of elevation angle, mostly due to the acoustic noise, is found to bring the main error contribution in across-track slope estimates. It can also be critical for along-track slope estimates, overshadowing error contributions due to the platform's attitude. Numerical examples are presented.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal or Conference Title

Marine Geophysical Researches


16, issue 6



Publisher Place

New York, NY, USA



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type

Journal Article