Date of Award

Fall 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Geospatial Science



First Advisor

Dr. Michael J. Pretes

Second Advisor

Dr. Sunhui Sim

Third Advisor

Dr. Jonathan P. Fleming


This research aims to introduce, utilize and analyze commercially available side-scan sonar units as a viable scientific research tool in the interest of historic preservation and archaeological inventory of submerged structures and landscapes using a case study of the Muscle Shoals Canal in Alabama. Opened in November 1890, the nine locks of the Muscle Shoals Canal allowed traffic on the Tennessee River to circumvent the treacherous "Muscle Shoals", an achievement that replaced an abandoned attempt from over a half century earlier. The canal would continue operations until April 1918, when construction of Wilson Dam blocked river traffic through the canal. After completion of the dam in 1924, the canal system was flooded by the newly formed Wilson Reservoir. This study used commercial grade sonar equipment to image flooded remains of the canal system. Along with inexpensive commercial software, a single low-cost sonar unit was capable of producing 3D bathymetry, side-scan imagery of the canal system, and detailed down-scan imagery of individual features of remaining lock components. Sonar output was compared to historical photographs of the canal and lock structures in order to examine what level of detail is possible from this consumer grade technology. Results show that the consumer grade sonar used in this study is capable of providing data suitable for creation of resource inventories of historical sites in the interest of historic preservation. The low cost and efficiency of consumer grade sonar units have potential to open the doors to future research and exploration of underwater treasures.