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Novel Acoustic Methods for Directly Monitoring Seabed Sediment Transport, Geohazards & Scour

TRACEY, NIALL (2024) Novel Acoustic Methods for Directly Monitoring Seabed Sediment Transport, Geohazards & Scour. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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In the natural environment, sediment transport processes can pose significant hazards to marine infrastructure, such as offshore wind turbines or seabed cables that carry both power onshore as well as carrying over 99% of global data. These processes are often extremely challenging to measure directly because sensors can be easily damaged by the processes themselves. It would, therefore, be highly advantageous to remotely sense and quantify sediment transport via sensors that are located outside the region of sediment transport. One way to do this is via sensors higher in the water column that detect acoustic signals emitted by sediment transport processes closer to the bed.
Previous work such as Wren et al. (2015), Marineau et al. (2016), and Le Guern et al. (2021) have started to develop passive acoustic methods to record signals from sediment transport, using tools such as hydrophones and acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs). Normally, ADCPs actively emit their own acoustic pulses, and their reflections are used to monitor flow velocities and concentrations. However, with modification to extend their listening times, ADCP’s can also be used to passively record acoustic signals emitted by sediment transport processes. Thus far, the potential of these passive acoustic methods have not been fully developed, and the fundamental controls that determine the type of acoustic signals produced are not yet fully understood.
This PhD sought to understand what controls the nature (frequencies, strength etc) of these signals and, thus, what they can tell us about sediment transport processes (Thorne, 1985,1986,1990,2014; Rigby et al. 2016). It aims to do this using a combination of laboratory experiments (Chapter 2) and detailed fieldwork (Chapters 3 and 4) using acoustic signals passively emitted by sediment flows. In addition, the thesis includes work testing the use of active acoustic methods to monitor sediment transport processes within the natural environment, specifically seabed sediment flows (called turbidity currents) (Chapter 5).
Results from this thesis found a general relationship between the strength of self-generated noise and flow speed in some types of sediment flows (Chapters 2, 3 and 4). However, the strength of this relationship changes depending on the frequency and details of the environment investigated. Field data from the Río Paraná (Chapter 3) suggested no relationship between bedload flux and acoustic signal strength, nor between acoustic signal strength and friction velocity. This is unexpected because previous research by Sime et al. (2007), Hossein and Rennie (2009), Hatcher (2017), Hay et al. (2021) and Le Guern et al. (2021) proposed links between flow speed (and bed shear stress and bedload transport) and passively detected noise strength.
Passive acoustic signals generated by turbidity currents were used to monitor these flows in a set of submarine canyons, which were Bute Inlet (Canada), Monterey Canyon (offshore California), and the Congo Canyon (offshore West Africa) (Chapter 4). Noticeable variations in the level of passively detected noise between these three field sites were observed. These variations are thought to be related to the main sediment grain size present within each canyon, with lower noise being detected with an increasing mud content of the seabed. In addition, differences in noise down submarine canyons suggest that flow processes and concentration could be controlling the level of sediment-generated noise, with implications of flow field dynamics.
Chapter 5 uses one of the most detailed (near-daily) series of multibeam swath bathymetry surveys yet collected, which come from within Bute Inlet, Canada, in September 2022. This unusual set of field observations is used to understand the relationship between flow evolution and the initiation mechanism of turbidity currents. For example, the Bute Inlet study supports the findings from Hizzett et al. (2018) that there is no link between the initiation mechanism and runout distance of a turbidity current.
Further research is needed to improve understanding of the controls on acoustic signals in the natural environment, and to also improve our ability to use acoustic signals to monitor sediment transport in a wider range of environments, such as around offshore wind farms.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Turbidity currents Marine acoustics Sediment transport
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Earth Sciences, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:24 Jan 2024 10:39

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