Wave interference

I’m TAing a marine GIS/ocean mapping course this quarter, and will be teaching a lecture on some aspects of multibeam sonars and the data that you get from them. Which is fun since I haven’t really thought much about multibeam sonars since I worked at a sonar company about 6 years ago.

I was trying to figure out how to explain how a longer array means you can get a narrow beam. It’s all about interference patterns, right? So I wrote a little script in Python (you can access the script directly on my Github page).

Let’s say you have two elements spaced a half wavelength apart. You get something like this, with one main lobe:


Cool – there’s just one main lobe of higher amplitude. But then if you pull those elements just a bit further apart – I’m showing a 5 wavelength separation here – you can see a completely different pattern:


So: the wider separation made more beams and and those beams were narrower. Interesting…. What if we wanted to have just one main beam that we could maybe steer around? (ahem. maybe a little like a multibeam sonar??) The next picture shows a single beam produced by a line of 20 elements, all spaced at half a wavelength apart from each other. This time we’re zooming out a bit – showing 30m x 30m this time. Also this simulation shows what it would look like with a 200 kHz signal – which is a pretty common frequency for a shallow water multibeam sonar.

Beam pattern example