A review of marine geomorphometry, the quantitative study of the seafloor
- 1Marine Geomatics Research Lab, Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, A1B 3X9, Canada
- 2Geological Survey of Norway, P.O. Box 6315 Sluppen, 7491 Trondheim, Norway
- 3Marine Geology and Seafloor Surveying, Department of Geosciences, University of Malta, Msida, MSD 2080, Malta
- 4Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 7004, Australia
Abstract. Geomorphometry, the science of quantitative terrain characterization, has traditionally focused on the investigation of terrestrial landscapes. However, the dramatic increase in the availability of digital bathymetric data and the increasing ease by which geomorphometry can be investigated using geographic information systems (GISs) and spatial analysis software has prompted interest in employing geomorphometric techniques to investigate the marine environment. Over the last decade or so, a multitude of geomorphometric techniques (e.g. terrain attributes, feature extraction, automated classification) have been applied to characterize seabed terrain from the coastal zone to the deep sea. Geomorphometric techniques are, however, not as varied, nor as extensively applied, in marine as they are in terrestrial environments. This is at least partly due to difficulties associated with capturing, classifying, and validating terrain characteristics underwater. There is, nevertheless, much common ground between terrestrial and marine geomorphometry applications and it is important that, in developing marine geomorphometry, we learn from experiences in terrestrial studies. However, not all terrestrial solutions can be adopted by marine geomorphometric studies since the dynamic, four-dimensional (4-D) nature of the marine environment causes its own issues throughout the geomorphometry workflow. For instance, issues with underwater positioning, variations in sound velocity in the water column affecting acoustic-based mapping, and our inability to directly observe and measure depth and morphological features on the seafloor are all issues specific to the application of geomorphometry in the marine environment. Such issues fuel the need for a dedicated scientific effort in marine geomorphometry.This review aims to highlight the relatively recent growth of marine geomorphometry as a distinct discipline, and offers the first comprehensive overview of marine geomorphometry to date. We address all the five main steps of geomorphometry, from data collection to the application of terrain attributes and features. We focus on how these steps are relevant to marine geomorphometry and also highlight differences and similarities from terrestrial geomorphometry. We conclude with recommendations and reflections on the future of marine geomorphometry. To ensure that geomorphometry is used and developed to its full potential, there is a need to increase awareness of (1) marine geomorphometry amongst scientists already engaged in terrestrial geomorphometry, and of (2) geomorphometry as a science amongst marine scientists with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.