Investigation into a prominent 38 kHz scattering layer in the North Sea
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The aim of this study was to investigate the composition of an acoustic scattering layer in the North Sea that is particularly strong at 38 kHz. A full definition of the biological composition of the layer, along with its acoustic properties, would allow for it to be confidently removed from data collected during acoustic fish surveys, where it presents a potential source of bias. The layer, traditionally and informally referred to as consisting of zooplankton, appears similar to others observed internationally. The methodology utilised in this study consisted of biological and acoustic sampling, followed by application of forward and inverse acoustic modelling techniques. Acoustic data was collected at 38, 120 and 200 kHz in July 2003, with the addition of 18 kHz in July 2004. Net samples were collected in layers of relatively strong 38 kHz acoustic scattering using a U-tow vehicle (2003) and a MIKT net (2004). Acoustic data were scrutinised to determine actual backscattering, expressed as mean volume backscattering strength (MVBS) (dB). This observed MVBS (MVBSobs) was compared with backscattering predicted by applying the forward problem solution (MVBSpred) to sampled animal densities in order to determine whether those animals were responsible for the enhanced 38 kHz scattering. In most instances, MVBSobs > MVBSpred, more pronounced at 38 kHz. It was found that MVBSpred approached MVBSobs more closely with MIKT than with U-tow samples, but that the 38 kHz mismatch was present in both. Inversion of candidate acoustic models predicted gas-bearing scatterers, which are strong at 38 kHz, as most likely to be responsible for this. Potential sources of inconsistencies between MVBSpred and MVBSobs were identified. The presented forward and inverse solutions infer that although the layer often contains large numbers of common zooplankton types, such as copepods and euphausiids, these are not the dominant acoustic scatterer at 38 kHz. Rather, there remains an unidentified, probably gas-bearing scatterer that contributes significantly to observed scattering levels at this frequency. This study identifies and considerably narrows the list of candidates that are most likely to be responsible for enhanced 38 kHz scattering in the North Sea layer, and recommendations are made for potential future studies.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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