Panama City Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America


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Low Cost Sonar Habitat Mapping

What is low-cost sonar habitat mapping?

Low-cost sonar habitat mapping is a method developed by Adam Kaeser (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Thom Litts (Georgia Department of Natural Resources) for producing high resolution maps of physical habitat features in navigable systems using inexpensive, off-the-shelf sonar and GPS equipment. Associated tools and techniques enable the generation of rectified image mosaics from sonar image snapshots obtained with the Humminbird® Side Imaging system. Physical habitat elements are manually digitized via interpretation of sonar imagery within a GIS. Sonar habitat mapping can be used to quantify the distribution and extent of habitat, investigate terrestrial-aquatic linkages, study patterns of habitat use by resident organisms, and monitor change over time. By providing a unique, rapid, and flexible means to visualize and characterize the underwater environment at the landscape scale, this method can be used to fill critical information gaps in a wide variety of aquatic systems.

We offer comprehensive, not-for-profit instructional workshops on this method, however training documents and supporting literature are freely provided here to anyone interested in this pursuit. We encourage you to peruse these materials and emphasize the Illustrated Guide to Low-Cost Sonar Habitat Mapping and the Sonar Imagery Geoprocessing Workbook as sources for details on the overall method. The content of this webpage and the materials provided are subject to regular update and revision.


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Last updated: April 17, 2018