Sound Navigation and Ranging SONAR

Sound Navigation and Ranging SONAR

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SONAR, as it is most commonly known as has been around since the beginning of time. Animals have used this technique and survived because of it for millions of years. Among the most common are bats and dolphins.

Daniel Colloden used a bell to measure the speed of sound underwater in 1822. After the Titanic sunk, the idea of using sound underwater to locate objects, primarily icebergs, was taken up by inventors. Lewis Richardson, a meteorologist, was the first to file a patent for an echo locator one month after the Titanic had sunk. In 1914, Reginald Fessenden made an experimental unit, which was able to detect icebergs within a two-mile range, but it could not determine the direction.

During World War I, with the invention of submarines came the need to locate them. Research of underwater sound location was a primary focus for the British. Both the U.S. and Britain were researching what would be Sonar, and it was kept secret throughout the war. By 1922, units were being produced and by 1923, they were being equipped to naval vessels.

Throughout the war, Britain referred to this underwater locator as ASDIC, which was the Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee. This committee, however, never existed. The name was just a cover-up to keep the actual detector secret. The term SONAR came from the Americans, who used it as the equivalent of RADAR. The term ASDIC was terminated in 1948 when NATO was formed and signals were being standardized.

Sonar utilizes sound propagation to detect objects, navigate, and communicate. Through acoustic location, Sonar can be used to find an object and tell how far away that object is.

As shown above, a transmitter sends out a pulse of sound towards an object, the sound wave is then reflected off of the object and sent back to the source.

The distance of the object is determined by the amount of time it takes for a reflection to return after the pulse is sent out. This can be affected by several factors such as the density of the media which the sound is traveling through and if the object itself is moving or not.

To find the direction of the object, several receivers are used to signal when a reflection passes by them.

The above picture shows an initial wave being sent out in all directions.

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The wave reflects off of the foreign object and returns towards the source of the sound. As the reflection passes over the receivers, each receiver is activated in the order which the wave passed over (They are numbered as they would have activated in this example).

As we know, sound can move through media such as air, water, and even solids. The properties of these media, such as density, motion, and viscosity, determine how well sound will propagate.

Sonar operates almost entirely on this principle. The speed of sound can be calculated by using its mass density (rho) and bulk modulus (K) as shown below.

c_{\mathrm{fluid}} = \sqrt {\frac{K}{\rho}}

But since the effect of density is very small, the sound of speed underwater can also be determined by

4388 + (11.25 × T (°F)) + (0.0182 × depth (ft) + salinity (ppt))

From this equation, properties of sound traveling through water are made simple. From the salinity, we can see that sound travels faster through the ocean than through fresh water. Temperature and depth also play significant roles in the speed of sound underwater.


R. J. Urick, Principles of Underwater Sound, 3rd edition (Peninsula Publishing, Los Altos, 1983)
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