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Seeing the Seafloor Using Sound - Multibeam Sidescan Sonar

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Sound is not just the stuff that our ears hear. It can be a tool for measuring and looking at objects in a new way. This activity attempts to connect the physics of sonar as a method of introducing students to sound waves and sonar imaging. Sonar is used extensively to map objects like the bottom of the oceans, infants in uterus and the human body. Sonar is a non-invasive method of looking at the world around us. It allows our eyes to see using what our ears can hear.

The seafloor is often thought of as a stagnate, unchanging part of the Earth's surface, parcticularly in Antarctica. One of the many areas of research in Antarctic conducted aboard research vessels like the N.B. Palmer and the Gould is seafloor mapping. These maps are constructed using multibeam sidescan sonar, which is able to produce very accurate topographical maps of the seafloor.

These maps are used to identify plate structures, volcanic features, regions of hydrothermal vent activity and paths of past glaciers.

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