Acoustic backscatter systems (ABS) can be used to non-intrusively measure profiles of both the concentration and particle size of suspended sediments in the marine environment. Inversion of ABS measurements into sediment size and concentration requires knowledge of two scattering parameters, namely the total normalised scattering cross-section, χ, and the form function, f. χ quantifies the acoustical scattering by a given particle over all angles, relative to its cross sectional area, and represents attenuation due to particle scattering losses. f describes the backscattering characteristics of a particle relative to its geometrical size. In recent years, a number of studies have presented measurements of f and χ for populations of sediments sieved over narrow size ranges, thereby essentially providing values for nominally a single particle size in suspension. In the present study, we extend these works by looking at the impact that a broad particle size distribution has on the form of f and χ. Here we model and measure the average form function for a broad size distribution (σ = ±0.35a0, where σ is the standard deviation about the mean particle radius, a0) of suspended glass spheres, whose scattering characteristics are well documented. The model is in close agreement with the provisional measurements, and suggests that for populations of suspended glass spheres with broad size distributions, the form function increases by about 40% in the Rayleigh regime (λ >> 2πa0, where λ is the wavelength of the sound in water), whilst decreasing by a factor of around 25% in the geometric regime (λ << 2πa0), relative to that obtained for populations with a nominally single size in suspension. The output from this work has direct implications for the calculation of particle size and concentration profiles, obtained from acoustic backscatter data collected on suspensions of marine sediments at sea
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