New approaches to high-resolution mapping of marine vertical structures

Katleen Robert, Veerle A. I. Huvenne, Aggeliki Georgiopoulou, Daniel O. B. Jones, Leigh Marsh, Gareth D. O. Carter, Leo Chaumillon

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Vertical walls in marine environments can harbour high biodiversity and provide natural protection from bottom-trawling activities. However, traditional mapping techniques are usually restricted to down-looking approaches which cannot adequately replicate their 3D structure. We combined sideways-looking multibeam echosounder (MBES) data from an AUV, forward-looking MBES data from ROVs and ROV-acquired videos to examine walls from Rockall Bank and Whittard Canyon, Northeast Atlantic. High-resolution 3D point clouds were extracted from each sonar dataset and structure from motion photogrammetry (SfM) was applied to recreate 3D representations of video transects along the walls. With these reconstructions, it was possible to interact with extensive sections of video footage and precisely position individuals. Terrain variables were derived on scales comparable to those experienced by megabenthic individuals. These were used to show differences in environmental conditions between observed and background locations as well as explain spatial patterns in ecological characteristics. In addition, since the SfM 3D reconstructions retained colours, they were employed to separate and quantify live coral colonies versus dead framework. The combination of these new technologies allows us, for the first time, to map the physical 3D structure of previously inaccessible habitats and demonstrates the complexity and importance of vertical structures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9005
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date21 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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