CIE Spotlight: Accounting for uncertainty in volumes of seabed change measured with repeat multibeam sonar surveys

Alexandre S. and Daniel I.

Alexandre S. and Daniel I.

Title: Accounting for uncertainty in volumes of seabed change measured with repeat multibeam sonar surveys

Authors: Schimel, Alexandre C. G.; Ierodiaconou, Daniel; Hulands, Lachlan; Kennedy, David M.

Source: CONTINENTAL SHELF RESEARCH, 111 52-68, DEC 1 2015

Brief summary of the paper: Seafloors of unconsolidated sediment are highly dynamic features; eroding or accumulating under the action of tides, waves and currents. Assessing which areas of the seafloor experienced change and measuring the corresponding volumes involved provide insights into these important active sedimentation processes.

Computing the difference between Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) obtained from repeat Multibeam Echosounders (MBES) surveys has become a common technique to identify these areas, but the uncertainty in these datasets considerably affects the estimation of the volumes displaced.

The two main techniques used to take into account uncertainty in volume estimations are the limitation of calculations to areas experiencing a change in depth beyond a chosen threshold, and the computation of volumetric confidence intervals. However, these techniques are still in their infancy and, as a result, are often crude, seldom used or poorly understood. In this article, we explored a number of possible methodological advances to address this issue, including: (1) using the uncertainty information provided by the MBES data processing algorithm CUBE, (2) adapting fluvial geomorphology techniques for volume calculations using spatially variable thresholds and (3) volumetric histograms.

The nearshore seabed off Warrnambool harbour – located in the highly energetic southwest Victorian coast, Australia – was used as a test site. Four consecutive MBES surveys were carried out over a four-months period. The difference between consecutive DEMs revealed an area near the beach experiencing large sediment transfers – mostly erosion – and an area of reef experiencing increasing deposition from the advance of a nearby sediment sheet. The volumes of sediment displaced in these two areas were calculated using the techniques described above, both traditionally and using the suggested improvements.

We compared the results and discussed the applicability of the new methodological improvements. We found that the spatially variable uncertainty derived from the CUBE algorithm provided the best results (i.e. smaller confidence intervals), but that similar results can be obtained using as a fixed uncertainty value derived from a reference area under a number of operational conditions.

More on this can be found on Alexandre’s website.