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Combining Low-Cost Sonar and High-Precision Global Navigation Satellite System for Shallow Water Bathymetry

  • Special Issue: Shallow Water Mapping
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Periodic bathymetry surveys are essential to provide data to keep navigation charts updated, obtain insights into water body bottom dynamics and processes, and for hydrodynamic modelling. Frequent bathymetry monitoring has become particularly important in a time of climate variability, which may affect hydrodynamics in yet unknown ways. Bathymetric data are, however, often scarce, because surveys are generally time consuming, expensive and complicated. A methodology combining a low-cost single beam sonar with a dual-frequency differential high-precision GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) is presented. Sonar depth measurements and GNSS positions were integrated optimizing sonar and GNSS track overlay. As a result, no physical, electronic link between both devices is needed, and precise positions and depths can be obtained without the need to apply the approach based on tide correction, which always introduces some uncertainty. The methodology was successfully tested and validated, with data collected inside an estuary and offshore the estuarine inlet. Vertical accuracies, assessed at track crossings and on locations of known depths, showed mean squared errors of about 20 cm, suggesting that the method is reliable in providing bathymetric data that satisfy the highest standards of the IHO for hydrographic surveys. Validation results suggest that the effects of boat pitch, roll and yaw on depth measurements were negligible in our survey, which covered depths between 0.4 and 24.5 m below MSL and were carried out in quite calm waters, though larger errors occurred in the off-shore zone. The use of an inertial measurement unit (IMU), which can easily be coupled with the GNSS to extract ship motion data and correct depths accordingly, is advised for less optimal survey conditions and deeper waters. The proposed method is accurate, simple and affordable, allowing for more frequent surveys and a better coverage of dynamic shallow water systems such as rivers and estuaries.

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We would further like to thank the Direção Geral do Território (Directorate General for Territory) for the use of the Portuguese network of permanent GNSS stations.


This research was partially supported by the Strategic Funding UID/Multi/04423/2019 through national funds provided by FCT–Foundation for Science and Technology and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), in the framework of the programme PT2020, and by the by the European Union MarRISK project: Adaptación costera ante el Cambio Climático: conocer los riesgos y aumentar la resiliencia (0262_MarRISK_1_E), through EP INTERREG V A España-Portugal (POCTEP) program.

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Correspondence to A. Bio.

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Communicated by Brian B. Barnes

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Bio, A., Gonçalves, J.A., Magalhães, A. et al. Combining Low-Cost Sonar and High-Precision Global Navigation Satellite System for Shallow Water Bathymetry. Estuaries and Coasts 45, 1000–1011 (2022).

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