An update to the BioBase sonar file reader released in Feb 2021 included an update that allows the user to select which sonar channel they’d like to process (Primary or Downscan) for vegetation. We call the broadband, traditional sonar channel “Primary” which includes the recommended frequency 200 khz. Most Lowrance transducers have this frequency. If the user selects the .sl2 or .sl3 file format and they have a Downscan-compatible transducer, the file will also include the Downscan channel. Downscan differs from the Primary channel in the size and orientation of the soundwave beam (Figure 1).
Because of the different orientations of the beam, the area that is processed by the echosounder and read into the file is slightly different and the technologies produce different images. In terms of the image, both have their strengths and drawbacks. Downscan generally gives the viewer better detail (Figure 2) and we often hear users tell us you can actually see individual plant leaves with downscan and visually separate out species. In fact, in the age of Artificial Intelligence, research has made strides in determining aquatic plant species from Lowrance downscan screenshots (Patel et al. 2019). Although robust species typing technology is still a ways from automation, we are making strides in this direction. The downside of downscan is that the image is quite sensitive to the speed and “yaw,” or turning of the boat. The benefits of the conical beam of the primary channel is that although it might not produce as detailed of an image of bottom as downscan, it is presumably a better integrator of the bottom conditions and plant growth. As far as we know, science has not delved much deeper into quantifying tradeoffs between the two sonar technologies. So we encourage our BioBase users to experiment and find what works best in the environment they are mapping!
Downscan vs Primary: Lake Survey Example
By default, BioBase processes vegetation using the Primary channel. User’s can change this preference in User Preferences area of My Account. When they change settings here, each uploaded sonar log will have these settings automatically. There is another area within the Trip Viewer map that allows the user to change the sonar channel for a single trip and reprocess the map. Select Tools – Trip Reprocessing. We go into greater depth about settings and preferences here.
So for the example below, we processed a sonar file with Primary, downloaded the statistical report, and then reprocessed with Downscan. Note how similar they look visually (Figures 3 and 4).
Differences were also rather small statistically speaking. There was a only a 5% difference in one biovolume metric (BVw which is biovolume across the entire survey area) and a 10% difference in a different Biovolume metric (BVp which is biovolume only where plants exist). Downscan seemed to think plants were a little longer than Primary. However, Downscan also seemed to find just a wee bit fewer plants than Primary since PAC was 5% less with Downscan than Primary. These differences probably reflect the subtle differences in the areas of bottom that the transducer beams sample. As such, there probably isn’t a right or wrong answer to which channel gives the most accurate results and relies on the end user to find which setting works best for their needs. For more info on these or any other features and to get started using BioBase, check out our web page biobasemaps.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.