Shallow-water imaging multibeam sonars: A new tool for investigating seafloor processes in the coastal zone and on the continental shelf


Hydrographic quality bathymetry and quantitative acoustic backscatter data are now being acquired in shallow water on a routine basis using high frequency multibeam sonars. The data provided by these systems produce hitherto unobtainable information about geomorphology and seafloor geologic processes in the coastal zone and on the continental shelf.

Before one can use the multibeam data for hydrography or quantitative acoustic backscatter studies, however, it is essential to be able to correct for systematic errors in the data. For bathymetric data, artifacts common to deep-water systems (roll, refraction, positioning) need to be corrected. In addition, the potentially far greater effects of tides, heave, vessel lift/squat, antenna motion and internal time delays become of increasing importance in shallower water. Such artifacts now cause greater errors in hydrographic data quality than bottom detection. Many of these artifacts are a result of imperfect motion sensing, however, new methods such as differential GPS hold great potential for resolving such limitations. For backscatter data, while the system response is well characterised, significant post processing is required to remove residual effects of imaging geometry, gain adjustments and water column effects. With the removal of these system artifacts and the establishment of a calibrated test site in intertidal regions (where the seabed may be intimately examined by eye) one can build up a sediment classification scheme for routine regional seafloor identification.

When properly processed, high frequency multibeam sonar data can provide a view of seafloor geology and geomorphology at resolutions of as little as a few decimetres. Specific applications include quantitative estimation of sediment transport rates in large-scale sediment waves, volume effects of iceberg scouring, extent and style of seafloor mass-wasting and delineation of structural trends in bedrock. In addition, the imagery potentially provides a means of quantitative classification of seafloor lithology, allowing sedimentologists the ability to examine spatial distributions of seabed sediment type without resorting to subjective estimation or prohibitively expensive bottom-sampling programs. Using Simrad EM100 and EM1000 sonars as an example, this paper illustrates the nature and scale of possible artifacts, the necessary post-processing steps and shows specific applications of these sonars.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Affiliate

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Marine Geophysical Research

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