Acoustic Methods for Mapping and Characterizing Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Using a Multibeam Echosounder

TitleAcoustic Methods for Mapping and Characterizing Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Using a Multibeam Echosounder
Publication TypeThesis
AuthorsNorton, AR
Degree and ProgramDoctor of Philosophy
DegreeEarth and Environmental Science
Number of Pages253
Date PublishedDecember
UniversityUniversity of New Hampshire
LocationDurham, NH

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) is an important component of many temperate global coastal ecosystems. SAV monitoring programs using optical remote sensing are limited by water clarity and attenuation with depth. Here underwater acoustics is used to analyze the water volume above the bottom to detect, map and characterize SAV. In particular, this dissertation developed and applied new methods for analyzing the full time series of acoustic intensity data (e.g., water column data) collected by a multibeam echosounder. This dissertation is composed of three separate but related studies. In the first study, novel methods for detecting and measuring the canopy height of eelgrass beds are developed and used to map eelgrass in a range of different environments throughout the Great Bay Estuary, New Hampshire, and Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. The results of this study validated these methods by showing agreement between boundaries of eelgrass beds in acoustic and aerial datasets more in shallow water than at the deeper edges, where the acoustics were able to detect eelgrass more easily and at lower densities. In the second study, the methods developed for measuring canopy height in the first study are used to delineate between kelp-dominated and non-kelp-dominated habitat at several shallow rocky subtidal sites on the Maine and New Hampshire coast. The kelp detection abilities of these methods are first tested and confirmed at a pilot site with detailed diver quadrat macroalgae data, and then these methods are used to successfully extrapolate kelp- and non-kelp-dominated percent coverages derived from video photomosaic data. The third study examines the variability of the acoustic signature and acoustically-derived canopy height under different tidal currents. Submerged aquatic canopies are known to bend to accommodate the drag they generate in response to hydrodynamic forcing, and, in turn, the canopy height measured by acoustics will not be a perfect representation of canopy height as defined by common seagrass monitoring protocols, which is usually measured as the length of the blade of seagrass. Additionally, the bending of the canopy affects how the blades of seagrass are distributed within the footprint of the sonar, changing the acoustic signature of the seagrass canopy. For this study, a multibeam echosounder, a current profiler and an HD video camera were deployed on a stationary frame in a single eelgrass bed over 2 tidal cycles. Acoustic canopy heights varied by as much as 30 cm over the experiment, and although acoustic canopy height was correlated to current magnitude, the relationship did not follow the predictive flexible vegetation reconfiguration model of Luhar and Nepf (2011). Results indicate that there are significant differences in the shape of the return from a deflected (i.e., bent-over) canopy and an upright canopy, and that these differences in shape have implications for the accuracy of bottom detection using the maximum amplitude of a beam time series. These three studies clearly show the potential for using multibeam water column backscatter data for mapping coastal submerged aquatic vegetation while also testing the natural variability in acoustic canopy height measurements in the field.