The goal of this work was to develop a consistent and semi-automated seafloor survey method for generating high-resolution, benthic habitat maps for environmental assessments and monitoring of marine renewable energy sites. Sediment profile and plan view imaging (SPI/PV) technology was combined with multibeam bathymetry and acoustic backscatter methods to demonstrate a rapid, cost-effective benthic mapping protocol. A key technical innovation of this project was the development of an image processing platform that automatically measures key features from the images.
Multibeam echosounder (MBES) acoustic and SPI/PV surveys were conducted at three coastal areas off the U.S. west coast, including the PacWave South energy test site off of Newport, Oregon. Point data on physical and biological sediment conditions obtained from the SPI/PV imagery were used to efficiently ground-truth the high-resolution MBES bathymetry and backscatter mosaics. The SPI camera is an optical corer that obtains an undisturbed 21 by 15 cm, high-resolution, cross-sectional image of the sediment–water interface and upper sediment column. The plan view camera attached to the SPI camera frame captures a downward looking view of the seabed immediately before the SPI image is obtained. As part of this project, we developed a computer vision image processing platform (iSPI) that uses deep convolutional neural networks and other approaches to automatically identify and measure key features in the images, such as grain size and surface relief.
Detailed benthic habitat maps were generated using this mapping approach for three different marine settings. The sites mapped included a silt-dominated embayment; a sloping, nearshore, transitional very fine to coarse sand bottom; and a medium, sand-dominated continental shelf marine energy test site. In each case, acoustic and imaging surveys were completed in less than week, and detailed benthic habitat maps were generated within 60 days. The results were placed within the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) habitat mapping framework, and various combinations of the bathymetry, backscatter, and SPI and PV data were used to generate CMECS component maps.
This project developed and demonstrated a repeatable and cost-effective approach for efficiently mapping benthic habitat conditions over broad areas of the seafloor by combining state-of-the-art acoustic and imaging techniques. The primary survey tools used in this project have been used previously in both the offshore renewable (wind) and oil and gas sectors to map and monitor benthic environments. This project's innovations include 1) the focused use of high-resolution SPI/PV imagery to ground-truth acoustic mosaics, and 2) the development of a computer automated image analysis processing tool that both streamlines and standardizes the generation of data from the imagery and makes the data extraction process more cost-effective and repeatable.