Seafloor Mapping Software:
Processing and Display
of Swath Sonar Data
David W. Caress (1) and Dale N. Chayes (2)
1. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
2. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
of Columbia University


MB-System is an open source software package for the processing and display of bathymetry and backscatter imagery data derived from multibeam, interferometry, and sidescan sonars. This software is distributed freely (and for free) in the form of source code for Unix platforms. The heart of the system is an input/output library called MBIO which allows programs to work transparently with any of a number of supported swath sonar data formats. This approach has allowed the creation of "generic" utilities which can be applied in a uniform manner to sonar data from a variety of sources. Most of the programs are command-line tools, but the package does include graphical tools for editing swath bathymetry, editing navigation, modeling bathymetry calculation, and adjusting survey navigation.

The acronym MB stands for MultiBeam; this reflects the fact that the early development of MB-System focused on processing deep sea data from multibeam sonars. However, MB-System now supports several data formats from sidescan and interferometric sonars and works with data from all depth ranges.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been the primary supporter of MB-System development. NSF initially provided grants to the authors at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in 1993 (two years), and 1995 (five years). SeaBeam Instruments also contributed significant effort from 1994 to 1999. This support has been renewed through successive parallel five year grants (2001-2006, 2006-2011, 2013-2017) to Caress at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and to Chayes at Lamont. MBARI, with support from the Packard Foundation, has matched the NSF support as part of its seafloor mapping program.

The original NSF mandate was to create a set of generic tools which would work with all of the sonar data used in NSF-supported projects. Not surprisingly, the core of the MB-System user community consists of NSF-supported researchers at U.S. institutions such as the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. However, MB-System has also come to be used widely in the international marine geological community.

The MB-System source code is distributed under the GNU General Public License as formulated by the GNU Project. MB-System installation depends on some other software packages (e.g. GMT and netCDF ), all of which are freely available as source code.

This documention is distributed with and refers to the MB-System release with this version.

Information About MB-System:

Contacting the MB-System Team:
Although the MB-System authors' personal email addresses are listed below, we greatly prefer that all inquiries, requests, and problem reports regarding MB-System be directed to the MB-System Discussion list.

Principal Authors:

David W. Caress
Software Engineer
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
7700 Sandholdt Road
Moss Landing, CA 95039
Voice: (831) 775-1775
Fax: (831) 775-1620

Dale Chayes at LDEO July 2003

Dale N. Chayes
Research Engineer
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Palisades, NY 10964
Voice: (845) 365-8434
Fax: (845) 359-6940


Val Schmidt at LDEO in July 2003

Val Schmidt
Research Engineer
Center of Coastal and Ocean Mapping
Joint Hydrographic Center of
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH 03824

Rare Non-Virtual Meeting of the MB-System Team circa 2003:
 July 2003 at IRI Building, LDEO

Last Updated: $Id: mbsystem_home.html 2135 2013-08-07 23:29:13Z caress $