Optimising protocols for high-definition imaging of historic shipwrecks using multibeam echosounder

  • Kieran WestleyEmail author
  • Ruth Plets
  • Rory Quinn
  • Chris McGonigle
  • Fabio Sacchetti
  • Mekayla Dale
  • Rory McNeary
  • Annika Clements
Original Paper


Conservation of historic shipwrecks is prohibitively expensive and in situ preservation and recording are the preferred archaeological approaches. Non-destructive high-definition 3D imaging is therefore essential for recording and managing submerged historic shipwrecks. Multibeam echosounders (MBES), the standard tool for hydrographic survey, can produce point clouds to image complex 3D structures. However, wreck imaging is often done using MBES in traditional survey mode optimised for morphological characterisation of the seafloor. This does not necessarily provide high-definition imagery required by archaeologists. This study demonstrates key factors influencing high-definition MBES imaging of wrecks through a controlled field experiment. Results show that optimal high-definition 3D imaging is achieved through maximising the pulse rate, narrowing the angular sector, using the highest frequency and shortest pulse lengths, applied to at least 3 to 5 overlapping centreline-parallel and offset passes with additional perpendicular/oblique lines. Variations in survey design are demonstrated to exert strong controls on sounding density and distribution, with high-density on horizontal and vertical wreck surfaces enabled by a combination of overlapping passes and offset lines. Adoption of this method would result in more widespread high-definition 3D imaging of wrecks to benefit archaeological research and develop effective mitigation strategies to minimise loss of the fragile underwater resource.


Multibeam echosounder Shipwreck Marine geoarchaeology Point cloud High-definition imaging Best practice 



This work was supported by the Marine Institute of Ireland’s ship-time programme (APP-CV15009: World War I shipwrecks in the Irish Sea: commemoration, visualization and heritage management). We thank the crew of the Celtic Voyager; without your patience and enthusiasm, we could not have achieved this. Thanks to Bob Kinnear (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) for provision of SS Neotsfield data and Karl Brady (Dept. of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) for supporting work in the Republic of Ireland waters. Finally, we are indebted to the late Martin Dean. His support and guidance were essential in bringing this project to fruition.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography & Environmental SciencesUlster UniversityColeraineUK
  2. 2.Marine InstituteCo. GalwayRepublic of Ireland
  3. 3.Historic Environment Division, Department for CommunitiesCauseway ExchangeBelfastUK
  4. 4.Agri-Food and Biosciences InstituteFisheries and Aquatic Ecosystems BranchBelfastUK

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