Multibeam Sonar Can Map Undersea Gas Seeps to Gain Understanding of Ocean Environments

Multibeam Sonar Can Map Undersea Gas Seeps to Gain Understanding of Ocean Environments

Oct 14, 2011

A technology commonly used to map the bottom of the deep ocean can also detect gas seeps in the water column -- a conceptual “column” of water from surface to the seafloor -- with remarkably high fidelity.

 

The mapping technology, multibeam sonar, is an echo-sounding technology that surveys a wide, fan-shaped swath of the seafloor, providing much greater coverage than the single-beam sonar systems previously used to map seeps.  Scientists from the University of New Hampshire and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tested the technology while onboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We wanted to see whether we could map a large area of gaseous seeps effectively using this technology, and how well the multibeam sonar compared to our very sensitive single-beam sonars,” says Tom Weber of UNH’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, who was lead scientist of this mission. “It turns out it works wonderfully.”

The multibeam sonar on the Okeanos Explorer produced data to make high-resolution maps of gas in the water column in depths ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 feet.  This new technique will lead to more effective mapping of these gas seeps and, ultimately, enhanced understanding of our ocean environments.

 

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