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Assessment of the application of multibeam echosounder technologies to UK marine habitat classification systems Supervisors: Dr. Gay Mitchelson-Jacob, Dr. Ronan Roche, Dr. Jim Bennell

Important description
Multibeam echosounder (MBES) systems are widely recognised as an effective tool for seafloor mapping, but the quantitative characterisation of MBES data and its application to ecologically relevant classification systems is less developed. Whilst the data availability and spatial resolution of MBES systems are advancing, the computing power to analyse large multivariate physical and ecological survey datasets is also increasingly available.
The acoustic backscatter data captured by MBES has application in mapping of surficial sediments, and methods have been developed to objectively classify backscatter information into acoustically similar regions (Brown et al., 2011). Ground-truthing of results has shown variable ability of such systems to correctly identify sediment characteristics and indicates that improvements can be made in classification techniques.
Physical gradients in particle size are correlated with biological community composition, and an emerging body of research is investigating the ability of acoustic backscatter data to identify marine biological assemblages. Considerable variability has been shown in the strength of correlations observed between acoustic signal-based classification and ground truth video data. However, high levels of correlation are observed for specific benthic habitats such as Sabellaria reef, seagrass meadows and mussel beds (e.g. van Rein et al., 2011). Questions remain as to the degree of detail with which acoustic backscatter data can be applied to ecological mapping and the extent to which its inclusion in multi-method classification techniques is useful.
At present, many elements of assigning biotopes to an area based on ecological survey results are heavily based upon expert judgment. This has the disadvantage of being a subjective methodology, such that the final biotope choice may be difficult to defend. There is an opportunity for developing statistical tools to support the decision making process and to incorporate additional types of data such as acoustic backscatter for achieving more robust objective outcomes in the biotoping process.
1. To investigate the ability of MBES data to contribute to biotope mapping, by comparing classification based on acoustic backscatter data with ground-truthing methods.
2. To develop novel techniques to support the decision-making process in the marine biotoping process
1. To carry out ship-based surveys of marine habitat incorporating MBES data acquisition, video (sledge or drop-down) and sediment grab-sampling techniques.
2. To examine methods for refining systems of marine habitat classification based on acoustic backscatter data.
3. To rigorously compare results obtained with video and sedimentological data.
4. To analyze the existing database of acoustic backscatter data, in order to test the application of classification methods on a range of sedimentary environments.
5. To develop techniques for improving the marine biotoping classification process, by testing the potential contribution of biological abundance measurements, and acoustic backscatter data

This project would focus on collection of new data from a suitable site for comparative analysis with an existing database. It would include training in:
1. ship-based collection of sediment grab samples, video surveys, and multi-beam data acquisition.
2. MBES data processing methods using PDS 2000 software.
3. lab-based sedimentological analysis, video survey analysis and GIS mapping techniques.

Eligibility and other criteria
Competitive studentship within the School of Ocean Sciences with potential for funding for UK applications (fees+stipend) or EU applications (fees only).

Application deadline
* 01 February 2013

Additional information, and important URL
Brown, Craig J.; Todd, Brian J.; Kostylev, Vladimir E. (2011). Image-based classification of multibeam sonar backscatter data for ojbective surficial sediment mapping of Georges Bank, Canada. CONTINENTAL SHELF RESEARCH Volume: 31 Issue: 2 Special Issue: SI Supplement: S Pages: S110-S119 DOI: 10.1016/j.csr.2010.02.

van Rein, H.; Brown, C. J.; Quinn, R. (2011) An evaluation of acoustic seabed classification techniques for marine biotope monitoring over broad-scales (>1 km2) and meso-sclaes (10 m2 -1 km2). ESTUARINE COASTAL AND SHELF SCIENCE Volume: 93 Issue: 4 Pages: 336-349 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecss.2011.04.011

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