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A new towed platform for the unobtrusive surveying of benthic habitats and organisms

December 31, 2008

Maps of coral ecosystems are needed to support many conservation and management objectives, as well as research activities. Examples include ground-truthing aerial and satellite imagery, characterizing essential habitat, assessing changes, and monitoring the progress of restoration efforts. To address some of these needs, the U.S. Geological Survey developed the Along-Track Reef-Imaging System (ATRIS), a boat-based sensor package for mapping shallow-water benthic environments. ATRIS consists of a digital still camera, a video camera, and an acoustic depth sounder affixed to a moveable pole. This design, however, restricts its deployment to clear waters less than 10 m deep. To overcome this limitation, a towed version has been developed, referred to as Deep ATRIS. The system is based on a light-weight, computer-controlled, towed vehicle that is capable of following a programmed diving profile. The vehicle is 1.3 m long with a 63-cm wing span and can carry a wide variety of research instruments, including CTDs, fluorometers, transmissometers, and cameras. Deep ATRIS is currently equipped with a high-speed (20 frames · s-1) digital camera, custom-built light-emitting-diode lights, a compass, a 3-axis orientation sensor, and a nadir-looking altimeter. The vehicle dynamically adjusts its altitude to maintain a fixed height above the seafloor. The camera has a 29° x 22° field-of-view and captures color images that are 1360 x 1024 pixels in size. GPS coordinates are recorded for each image. A gigabit ethernet connection enables the images to be displayed and archived in real time on the surface computer. Deep ATRIS has a maximum tow speed of 2.6 m · s-1and a theoretical operating tow-depth limit of 27 m. With an improved tow cable, the operating depth can be extended to 90 m. Here, we present results from the initial sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico and Biscayne National Park, Florida, USA, and discuss the utility of Deep ATRIS for map-ping coral reef habitats. Several example mosaics illustrate the high-quality imagery that can be obtained with this system. The images also reveal the potential for unobtrusive animal observations; fish and sea turtles are unperturbed by the presence of Deep ATRIS

Publication Year 2008
Title A new towed platform for the unobtrusive surveying of benthic habitats and organisms
DOI 10.15517/rbt.v56i0.5577
Authors David G. Zawada, P.R. Thompson, J. Butcher
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Revista de Biología Tropical: International Journal of Tropical Biology and Conservation
Index ID 70184387
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center