Mastering Bathymetry I:
Multibeam Echo Sounders for Precision Surveys

Ahoy there! Welcome to the captivating world of hydrographic surveying! When it comes to exploring the wonders of water bodies, hydrographic surveys are our trusty guides. They help us navigate safely, map shorelines, and uncover the hidden treasures beneath the waves. In this article, we’ll dive deep into bathymetry surveys—the heroes that unveil the secrets of underwater depths. But fear not, we won’t leave other types of hydrographic surveys high and dry! We’ll give them a friendly nod as well, because together they paint a comprehensive picture of our aquatic landscapes. So, buckle up (or should I say, anchor down?) and let’s set sail on this hydrographic adventure!

cover photo survey


Bathymetry surveys are vital for numerous maritime applications. They enable safe navigation, aid coastal zone management, and support offshore resource exploration. 


Imagine this: vast oceans, mighty ships, and meticulously crafted nautical charts. These charts, enriched with bathymetric data, are mariners’ essential tools. They provide depth information, navigational aids, and hazard warnings, ensuring smooth and secure passage.


Yet, bathymetry surveys have a broader reach. They assist coastal zone management by revealing shoreline changes, sediment dynamics, and nearshore features. Armed with this knowledge, coastal experts can plan development, combat erosion, and restore ecosystems.


And let’s not overlook the excitement of offshore resource exploration! Deep below the waves lie untapped treasures—oil, gas, minerals, and renewable energy sources. Accurate bathymetric data unlocks these resources by guiding us to suitable extraction sites, whether for drilling, mining, or harnessing offshore wind energy.


In summary, bathymetry surveys are not just scientific endeavors; they are gateways to a safer, more sustainable maritime world. They empower us to explore, protect, and harness the incredible potential of our aquatic landscapes

MBES survey

Multibeam importances in hydrographic survey – sciencedirect


Beneath the surface of vast water bodies lie hidden landscapes and mysteries waiting to be discovered. In the world of bathymetry surveys, multiple methods can be used, including multi-beam and single-beam surveys, ADCPs, sub-bottom profilers, and the Ecomapper Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. However, there is one instrument that stands out as a champion of underwater mapping—the Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES).

How does MBES works?

  1. Sound Pulse Emission: MBES transducers emit a series of sound pulses in a fan-like pattern, spanning a wide angle.

  2. Sound Wave Reflection: The pulses travel through the water, bouncing off the seafloor and returning as echoes.

  3. Echo Detection: Specialized receivers in the MBES system capture the echoes, measuring the time it takes for the sound waves to travel to the seafloor and back.

  4. Data Calculation: Using precise timing and sophisticated algorithms, the MBES calculates water depths for each beam, forming a dense grid of bathymetric measurements

The sound pulse emitted, reflected, and sent towards echo detector by grabcad

What are the data output?

  1. Depth Values: Each sound beam yields a depth measurement, or sounding, providing detailed information about water depths across the survey area.
  2. Grid and Surface Generation: The collected soundings are processed and interpolated to create a continuous bathymetric grid or surface, representing the seafloor topography.
  3. Visualization and Analysis: Bathymetric grids can be utilized to generate depth contours, 3D models, and visual representations that offer insights into underwater features, geological formations, and potential hazards.


There are specific techniques and considerations to keep in mind when running Multibeam Echo Sounders (MBES) to ensure accurate and reliable data collection. Here are some key techniques for running MBES effectively:

  1. Swath Planning: Before conducting a survey, careful planning of the survey area is essential. Swath planning involves determining the survey line spacing and vessel speed to achieve optimal coverage and data quality. Factors such as water depth, seafloor complexity, and desired data resolution influence the planning process. By considering these factors, surveyors can ensure that the MBES system collects sufficient data for accurate bathymetric mapping.
  2. Calibration and Configuration: Proper calibration of the MBES system is crucial to achieve accurate measurements. Calibration involves aligning the system’s transducers and determining the system offsets. This process ensures that the MBES accurately measures the angles and distances of the sound beams. Additionally, configuring the MBES system with appropriate settings, such as pulse length and frequency, is important to optimize data quality and resolution for the specific survey conditions.
  3. Motion Compensation: Vessel motion during data acquisition can affect the accuracy of MBES measurements. Employing motion compensation techniques is essential to account for these motions. Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) or motion sensors are used to measure the vessel’s roll, pitch, and yaw movements. This motion data is then integrated with the MBES measurements to correct for any vessel motion, ensuring accurate depth measurements. Motion compensation is particularly critical in dynamic marine environments with wave action or strong currents.
  4. Real-Time Data Quality Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of data quality during survey operations is essential. MBES systems often provide real-time feedback on data quality parameters, such as signal strength, beam geometry, and depth accuracy. Surveyors should monitor these parameters to identify any issues or anomalies that may impact data quality. Real-time monitoring allows for immediate adjustments and interventions if necessary, ensuring the collection of reliable and high-quality bathymetric data.
  5. Post-Processing and Quality Control: After completing the data acquisition, thorough post-processing and quality control are conducted to ensure accurate and reliable results. This involves cleaning the data, removing any outliers or noise, and applying corrections for sound velocity variations caused by water temperature and salinity. Post-processing software and algorithms are used to generate a seamless and accurate bathymetric grid or surface from the collected MBES soundings.

By applying these techniques and maintaining a systematic approach to MBES data acquisition, surveyors can ensure the production of high-quality bathymetric data for various applications, including navigation, coastal management, and resource exploration.


In conclusion, MBES revolutionized bathymetry surveys by providing precise and detailed underwater mapping. Their advanced technology, coupled with effective survey techniques, enables us to navigate safely, protect coastal areas, and harness offshore resources. By embracing the latest advancements, investing in training, collaborating with experts, implementing quality control measures, and continually improving our survey practices, we can unlock the full potential of MBES and push the boundaries of underwater exploration. By shining a light into the depths, bathymetry surveys continue to shape our understanding of the underwater world and enable us to navigate our seas and oceans with confidence.


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