Creating artworks from marine surveys

“The Bird’s Head”: Complex geological processes shaped the seabed at Iverryggen, Norway into this spectacular structure, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a bird’s head. It was revealed by multibeam data in 2012. Source: Visual Soundings.

Just as the photographers of landscapes want to share the scenes they capture, marine scientists want to share the hidden terrains that make the seafloor so captivating. That is the goal of a new initiative that uses marine surveys to create visually stunning artworks.

Visual Soundings is a new website and art collection showcasing the wonders found through multibeam echosoundings (MBES). The contributors to this site have been ‘listening’ to the seafloor for decades with increasingly sophisticated technology, and are now sharing what they have found to a wider audience.

Dr Lucieer, a marine spatial analyst behind the Visual Soundings collection, said seafloor images are usually studied with a scientific eye rather than from an artistic perspective, which means the breathtaking beauty of marine landscapes are often overlooked.

“Maltese Tattoo:” Just 3.5km offshore of Malta is a beautiful pattern of lobes and ripples of sand overlaying maerl with sand and gravel. Source: Visual Soundings.

“We’re familiar with the appearance of the Moon and even the surface of Mars is well-documented thanks to NASA’s rovers, but still only five per cent of the world’s oceans have been mapped in any detail,” Dr Lucieer said.

“In recent years, however, new techniques such as multibeam echosounders have revolutionised scientists’ knowledge of the appearance, shape and structure of the seabed.

“In doing so, they sometimes reveal startlingly beautiful glimpses of the seafloor that look more like works of art than scientific data.”

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“Sediment on the move”. The north coast of Ireland is widely known for its dramatic rock formation, the most famous being the Giant Causeway. Further offshore  sand wave formations and steep rock outcrops are testament to the extreme tides and currents active in the area. Source: Visual Soundings.

Simple echosounding and other techniques have been used for many years to make maps of the seabed, primarily for safety of navigation, based on the depth measurements (soundings).

More advanced acoustic techniques, most significantly multibeam echosounders have revolutionised our knowledge of the shape and structure of the seabed over the last couple of decades. MBES have now evolved to become the standard system for mapping the oceans, lakes and rivers.

Traditionally, MBES systems have been ship hull mounted but more recently have been adapted to Remotely controled Underwater Vehicles (ROVS) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs).


Marine surveying and mapping methods. Source: Visual Soundings

Dr Lucieer encourages others to contribute their own artworks to the catalogue.

“My colleague Margaret Dolan and I wanted to share the sense of wonder that we often experience when studying acoustic images,” she said.

“Through Visual Soundings we are sharing some of our favourite images and inviting others to contribute their own acoustic images.”

Dr Lucieer, who exhibited her first works in the 2016 exhibition Oceans of the Unknown, said she had been keen to reveal the beauty of seafloor dynamics through an artistic avenue throughout her career as a marine spatial analyst.

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