Ocean Community News

GeoHab Backscatter Working Group Releases Comprehensive Guidelines

A working group focused on backscatter measurements has released a comprehensive document covering everything from the fundamentals of sea-floor mapping sonars to the multiple ways to process backscatter data, including acquisition and processing, modeling and interpretation, instrument calibration, and so forth, including complete guidelines and recommendations aimed at getting the most accurate results for operators. The report is freely available via geohab.org/publications.

In 2009 and 2014, world attention focused on the tragic losses of Air France Flight 447 in the South Atlantic and Malaysian Airlight 370 in the Indian Ocean. Vessels and aircraft scoured the areas towing passive hydrophones and dropping sonobuoys seeking a simple return from the location pingers attached to the black boxes of the aircraft. Failing to locate the pingers, massive sonar searches were then started, mapping tens of thousands of kilometers of deep seafloor, trying to detect the wreckage from high‐resolution sidescan images recorded from surface ships and towed vehicles. While the AF 447 wreck was finally discovered, no trace of MH 370 has been found. These tragic events emphasize the vastness and complexity of the deep seafloor and epitomize the fundamental role that sound plays in the sea and the historic roots that measurements of seafloor backscatter have had in ocean exploration.

Marine scientists have long recognized the potential of using remotely‐sensed data as a proxy of biophysical indicators. Such data are most often acquired using sonar systems, since acoustic waves are the most suitable mechanism for transmitting information through the water column. Research and development that look at using marine acoustics for environmental science spans the entire spectrum from fundamental science to engineering. One research group that supported and encouraged this line of research is the GeoHab group, an international association of scientists focusing on marine Geological and biological Habitat mapping (geohab.org/).

Much work is left to fully resolved the challenge of robust seafloor characterization. To achieve this, the GeoHab Backscatter Working Group strives to understand the nature of the data produced by sensing systems and how these data have been modified through the acquisition and processing streams. The guidelines seek to empower readers to better understand and quantify the characteristics of the backscatter data collected by the range of sensors available to the community, as well as to better understand corrections applied to these data, so that users can derive consistent, comparable, and perhaps even calibrated backscatter data that are representative of changes in the nature of the seafloor rather than an instrumental or processing artifacts.

The report is also driven by a desire to ensure the growing community that uses and appreciates the broad applications of quantitative backscatter and seafloor characterization, also fully understands the limitations and constraints of our current technologies. With these purposes in mind, the group hope to set the scene for enhanced and appropriate use of seafloor backscatter data and for a next generation of research efforts that will bring us even closer to our ultimate goal of robust and quantitative remote seafloor characterization.

GeoHab is a non-profit organization established in 2001 and has since held annual conferences in various locations around the world. GeoHab meetings are designed to: maintain awareness of developments in marine survey technologies and survey standards; learn how biology, geology and oceanography apply to marine habitat mapping; share experiences in the application of habitat maps for fisheries management, biodiversity management, seabed resources, and the design and performance assessment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs); build links between marine scientists and agencies worldwide engaged in benthic habitat mapping; apply and evaluate habitat classification systems using real-world examples.

To read “Backscatter measurements by seafloor‐mapping: Guidelines and Recommendations,” click here.



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