Acoustic mapping as an environmental management tool: I. detection of barrels of low-level radioactive waste, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, California

Ocean and Coastal Management
By: , and 

Links

Abstract

The oceans have been and will continue to be disposal sites for a wide variety of waste products. Often these wastes are not dumped at the designated sites or transport occurs during or after dumping, and, subsequent attempts to monitor the effects the waste products have on the environment are inadequate because the actual location of the waste is not known. Acoustic mapping of the seafloor with sidescan sonar is a very effective technique for locating and monitoring dredge-spoil material and other debris. Sidescan sonar provides an acoustic image or sonograph of the sea floor that is similar to a satellite image of the Earth's land surface. In effect sidescan sonar allows the water column to be stripped from the sea floor, thereby providing a clear, unobstructed view of the sea bed.

 

An example of the potential of this technique is summarized herein for the Gulf of the Farallones region. More than 47 800 drums (55 gallon) and other containers of low-level radioactive waste were dumped on the continental margin offshore the San Francisco Bay between 1946 and 1970. These drums now litter a large area (1200 km2) of the sea floor within the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS). The exact location of the drums and the potential hazard the drums pose to the environment are unknown. To evaluate the risk, samples of the sediment, biota and water must be collected near and distant from the concentrations of barrels. To do this the exact location of the barrels must be known prior to sampling. The USGS, through a cooperative research agreement with GFNMS, used sidescan sonar to map two areas within the sanctuary. Total sea-floor coverage was obtained and computer-processed sonographic mosaics were constructed on board ship. Many small nongeologic targets were distributed throughout the survey areas that covered about 70 km2 on the shelf and 120 km2 on the slope. Analysis of the sidescan data suggests that the targets are 55-gallon drums. This interpretation was confirmed at one site with an underwater video and 35-mm camera system. Data were collected with both a 30-kHz and a 120-kHz sidescan system within a 15-km2 area on the shelf. We found that the barrels were more easily detected with the mid-range 30-kHz system than with the higher resolution 120-kHz system. Maps of barrel distribution derived from the sonographs are being used to design sampling schemes to evaluate the risk that the radioactivity may have on the biota and environment.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Acoustic mapping as an environmental management tool: I. detection of barrels of low-level radioactive waste, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, California
Series title Ocean and Coastal Management
DOI 10.1016/0964-5691(94)90032-9
Volume 22
Issue 3
Year Published 1994
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Coastal and Marine Geology Program, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 27 p.
First page 201
Last page 227
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Gulf of the Farallones
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N