EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Examining the links between multi-frequency backscatter, geomorphology and benthic habitat associations in Marine Protected Areas

Robert Mzungu Runya, Chris McGonigle, and Rory Quinn
Robert Mzungu Runya et al.
  • Ulster University, School of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Coleraine, United Kingdom

Acoustic methods are frequently used to provide broad-scale information on the spatial extent, range and distribution of marine habitats and sedimentary environments. Although single frequency multibeam echosounders have dominated seabed mapping for decades, multi-frequency approaches are starting to present in the scientific literature. Multibeam survey strategies are generally optimized for the acquisition of bathymetry data, often overlooking the ecological and geological value of backscatter data. This study examines the benefits of combining multi-frequency backscatter responses to discriminate seabed properties in areas with strong geomorphological gradients and associated ecological variability. The frequency-dependence element of backscatter strength is linked to: (i) the dominant scattering regime, (ii) seabed roughness, and (iii) the input of volume scattering related to signal penetration. In 2019, we collected and analyzed multifrequency (200, 95 and 30-kHz) backscatter data from Hempton’s Turbot Bank, a marine protected area off the north coast of Ireland. We compare these data with legacy 300 kHz backscatter data from 2013 to explore the backscatter variability in the context of geomorphological change. We assess the explanatory power of multi-frequency vis-à-vis single-frequency backscatter data in terms of bathymetry, sediment granulometry and infaunal community structure. Results improve our understanding of the link between backscatter properties and geomorphology, with specific recommendations towards minimizing information loss and establishing minimum data requirements for frequency-based benthic habitat discrimination. Improved discrimination of geomorphology and benthic habitat characteristics enhances the reliability of backscatter data as a monitoring technique for area-based protection of marine resources.

How to cite: Runya, R. M., McGonigle, C., and Quinn, R.: Examining the links between multi-frequency backscatter, geomorphology and benthic habitat associations in Marine Protected Areas, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-22399,, 2020


Display file