Technologies to Detect Underwater Unexploded Ordnance

The risks from munitions in the underwater environment are driven by two very different effects: the explosive hazard associated with encounter and the environmental hazard associated with the release of the constituents contained in the round. Developing tools to determine the locations of munitions and the potential sources, transport, fate, and effects of munitions constituents in the marine environment is essential for a more complete assessment of the potential for environmental impacts and exposure at current and former military ranges and disposal sites.

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Detailed surveys of contaminated areas are conducted where the remediation of individual munitions is required. Individual items must be detected with high probability and sufficient location accuracy that they may be unambiguously identified and retrieved. SERDP and ESTCP projects have demonstrated several technologies meant for conducting detailed surveys of munitions response sites in the underwater environment.

In 2022, SERDP funded projects that will improve the detection of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and characterize munitions. The selected projects are described in greater detail below.

  • Dr. Timothy Marston at the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory and his team will use the combined set of observed target and environment features from the Multi-Sensor Towbody (MuST) to improve target localization, map geo-rectification, multi-aspect data combination, and to facilitate identification of key target features using the combined set of observations. This effort will enable operators or classification algorithms to access accurately aligned multi-aspect, multi-frequency observations of objects for improved feature detection and UXO identification capability. ( Project Overview)
  • Dr. Jeffrey Thayer at the University of Colorado and his team will investigate methods to assess the capability of a revolutionary LiDAR technology to detect and characterize munitions found at underwater sites in waters of less than five meters depth. This project will investigate into the quality of LiDAR point clouds in terms of having sufficient resolution to discern proud, partially buried, and fouled unexploded ordnance from the surrounding environment. Results from this work will provide expanded capability to cost-effectively characterize munitions response sites in the shallow underwater environment and to deploy above-water LiDAR technologies for a wide array of site conditions. ( Project Overview)
  • Dr. Peter Traykovski at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and his team will evaluate detection of surrogate unexploded ordnance (UXO) in surf-zone or near surf-zone conditions with an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) based interferometric sidescan sonar. The project team will also demonstrate modelling capabilities for UXO mobility and burial in sandy surf zone environments. The project team will focus on low density munitions as they are most likely to migrate. The results of the detection measurements with a relatively simple acoustic system will be useful to inform developers of more complex systems on the potential for acoustic measurements in surf zone conditions and will provide a useful unmanned system for wide area surf zone surveys, bathymetric, and UXO in areas where targets are expected to be unburied and detectable by sidescan sonar. ( Project Overview)

These projects will enhance current technologies and develop new approaches for wide area and detailed surveys of munitions in a variety of complex and shallow underwater environments. Such efforts will ultimately enable cost-effective characterization, remediation, and management of underwater munitions response sites.

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