Impact of sound attenuation by suspended sediment on ADCP backscatter calibrations

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Although designed for velocity measurements, acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs) are widely being used to monitor suspended particulate matter in rivers and in marine environments. To quantify mass concentrations of suspended matter, ADCP backscatter is generally calibrated with in situ measurements. ADCP backscatter calibrations are often highly site-specific and season dependent, which is typically attributed to the sensitivity of the acoustic response to the number of scatterers and their size. Besides being a joint function of the concentration and the size of the scatterers, the acoustic backscatter can be heavily affected by the attenuation due to suspended matter along the two-way path to the target volume. We aim to show that accounting for sound attenuation in ADCP backscatter calibrations may broaden the range of application of ADCPs in natural environments. The trade-off between the applicability and the accuracy of a certain calibration depends on the variation in size distribution and concentration along the sound path. We propose a simple approach to derive the attenuation constant per unit concentration or specific attenuation, based on two water samples collected along the sound path of the ADCP. A single calibration was successfully applied at five locations along the River Mahakam, located up to 200 km apart. ADCP-derived estimates of suspended mass concentration were shown to be unbiased, even far away from the transducer.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberW09520
Number of pages14
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • doppler-current-profiler
  • particle-size
  • acoustic measurements
  • laboratory evaluation
  • particulate matter
  • settling velocity
  • beam attenuation
  • boundary-layer
  • transport
  • scattering

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