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Field test comparison of an autocorrelation technique for determining grain size using a digital 'beachball' camera versus traditional methods

January 1, 2007

This extensive field test of an autocorrelation technique for determining grain size from digital images was conducted using a digital bed-sediment camera, or 'beachball' camera. Using 205 sediment samples and >1200 images from a variety of beaches on the west coast of the US, grain size ranging from sand to granules was measured from field samples using both the autocorrelation technique developed by Rubin [Rubin, D.M., 2004. A simple autocorrelation algorithm for determining grain size from digital images of sediment. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 74(1): 160-165.] and traditional methods (i.e. settling tube analysis, sieving, and point counts). To test the accuracy of the digital-image grain size algorithm, we compared results with manual point counts of an extensive image data set in the Santa Barbara littoral cell. Grain sizes calculated using the autocorrelation algorithm were highly correlated with the point counts of the same images (r2 = 0.93; n = 79) and had an error of only 1%. Comparisons of calculated grain sizes and grain sizes measured from grab samples demonstrated that the autocorrelation technique works well on high-energy dissipative beaches with well-sorted sediment such as in the Pacific Northwest (r2 ??? 0.92; n = 115). On less dissipative, more poorly sorted beaches such as Ocean Beach in San Francisco, results were not as good (r2 ??? 0.70; n = 67; within 3% accuracy). Because the algorithm works well compared with point counts of the same image, the poorer correlation with grab samples must be a result of actual spatial and vertical variability of sediment in the field; closer agreement between grain size in the images and grain size of grab samples can be achieved by increasing the sampling volume of the images (taking more images, distributed over a volume comparable to that of a grab sample). In all field tests the autocorrelation method was able to predict the mean and median grain size with ???96% accuracy, which is more than adequate for the majority of sedimentological applications, especially considering that the autocorrelation technique is estimated to be at least 100 times faster than traditional methods.