AskDefine | Define bathymetry

Dictionary Definition

bathymetry n : measuring the depths of the oceans [syn: plumbing]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The measurement of the depths of the seas

Extensive Definition

Bathymetry is the underwater equivalent to hypsometry. The name comes from Greek βαθυς, deep, and μετρον, measure. In other words, bathymetry is the study of underwater depth, of the third dimension of lake or ocean floors. A bathymetric map or chart usually shows floor relief or terrain as contour lines (called depth contours or isobaths), and may additionally provide surface navigational information.
Originally, bathymetry referred to the measurement of ocean depth. Early techniques used pre-measured heavy rope or cable lowered over a ship's side. The greatest limitation of this technique is that it measures the depth only a single point at a time, and so is inefficient. It is also subject to movements of the ship and currents moving the line out of true and therefore is inaccurate.
The data used to make bathymetric maps today typically comes from an echosounder (sonar) mounted beneath or over the side of a boat, "pinging" a beam of sound downward at the seafloor or from remote sensing LIDAR or LADAR systems . The amount of time it takes for the sound or light to travel through the water, bounce off the seafloor, and return to the sounder tells the equipment how far down the seafloor is. LIDAR/LADAR surveys are usually conducted by airborne systems.
Years ago, the occasional pings of a single-beam sounder might be averaged to make a map. Today, a multibeam echosounder may be used, featuring dozens of very narrow adjacent beams arranged in a fan-like swath of perhaps 90 to 180 degrees across. The tightly packed array of narrow individual beams provides very high angular resolution and accuracy. In general, the wide swath, which is depth dependent, allows a boat to map more seafloor in less time by making fewer passes. The beams update many times per second (typically 1-40 Hz depending on water depth), allowing faster boat speed while maintaining 100% coverage of the seafloor. Attitude sensors correct for the boat's roll, pitch and yaw on the ocean surface, and a gyrocompass provides accurate heading information to correct for vessel yaw. The Global Positioning System specifies where the boat is. Sound velocity profiles (speed of sound in water) of the water column correct for refraction or "ray-bending" of the sound waves owing to non-uniform water column characteristics such as temperature, conductivity, and pressure. A computer system processes all the data, correcting for all of the above factors as well as for the angle of each individual beam. In the end, a map is semi-automatically generated from this massive trove of data. Satellites are also used to measure bathymetry. Satellite radar maps deep-sea topography by detecting the subtle variations in sea level caused by the gravitational pull of undersea mountains, ridges, and other masses. On average, sea level is higher over mountains and ridges than abyssal plains and trenches.
Most surveys of navigable waterways in the United States are performed or commissioned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, for inland waterways, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for oceans. Coastal bathymetry data is available from the National Geodetic Data Center . Bathymetry data is often referenced to tidal vertical datums of MSL or MLW.
Some occupations or careers related to bathymetry is the study of oceans and rocks and minerals on the ocean floor. Also the study of underwater earthquakes or volcanology can apply. People who work with different types of terrains may also study the ocean floor, since it is such a unique area of the earth. Submarines and ships study the depths of the oceans, using sonars, and so people who work on those ships work with that area of expertise, as well.


External links

bathymetry in Danish: Bathymetri
bathymetry in German: Bathymetrie
bathymetry in Modern Greek (1453-): Βυθομέτρηση
bathymetry in Spanish: batimetría
bathymetry in French: Bathymétrie
bathymetry in Italian: Batimetria
bathymetry in Dutch: Bathymetrie
bathymetry in Norwegian: Batymetri
bathymetry in Polish: Batymetria
bathymetry in Portuguese: Batimetria
bathymetry in Serbian: Изобата
bathymetry in Swedish: Batymetri
bathymetry in Ukrainian: Батиметрія

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