Just as the Center has been at the leading edge in developing new tools to create three-dimensional bathymetric seafloor maps, CCOM/JHC researchers are developing ways to extract the geological component from the acoustic “backscatter” signal to characterize the seafloor.
By improving the ability to remotely sense seafloor composition—coarse or fine sand, mud, rock, etc.—survey ships will be able to quickly and accurately map a diversity of seafloor habitats.
This has been the holy grail for 25 years,” says research professor James Gardner. “Currently, you have to stop the ship, take a sample, take a photograph, and piece it all together. Developing our ability to do this via remote sensing would vastly increase the area we could map from a habitat point of view.”
To that end, the Center has a number of interconnected research programs dealing with a range of sensors (single beam, multibeam and sidescan sonars, lidar, video, etc.) and involving theoretical studies, the collection of remotely sensed data, and “ground-truth” samples.
These efforts are particularly relevant for the increasingly important topic of fisheries habitat characterization, which is a one of the key goals of the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping or “map once, use many times” approach to mapping the seafloor.
CCOM/JHC has developed a software package that has successfully extracted remotely sensed backscatter data from small areas of seafloor. Still under development, the package has been incorporated into standard software for offshore mapping and, as it continues to be refined, will be a boon not only for habitat mapping but ocean engineering projects—aquaculture, wind farms, deep-ocean structures—that require highly accurate seafloor characterization.