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Techniques and Methods 3-A22

Measuring Discharge with Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers from a Moving Boat

By David S. Mueller, Chad R. Wagner, Michael S. Rehmel, Kevin A. Oberg, and Francois Rainville

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (12.6 MB)Abstract

The use of acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs) from a moving boat is now a commonly used method for measuring streamflow. The technology and methods for making ADCP-based discharge measurements are different from the technology and methods used to make traditional discharge measurements with mechanical meters. Although the ADCP is a valuable tool for measuring streamflow, it is only accurate when used with appropriate techniques. This report presents guidance on the use of ADCPs for measuring streamflow; this guidance is based on the experience of U.S. Geological Survey employees and published reports, papers, and memorandums of the U.S. Geological Survey. The guidance is presented in a logical progression, from predeployment planning, to field data collection, and finally to post processing of the collected data. Acoustic Doppler technology and the instruments currently (2013) available also are discussed to highlight the advantages and limitations of the technology. More in-depth, technical explanations of how an ADCP measures streamflow and what to do when measuring in moving-bed conditions are presented in the appendixes. ADCP users need to know the proper procedures for measuring discharge from a moving boat and why those procedures are required, so that when the user encounters unusual field conditions, the procedures can be adapted without sacrificing the accuracy of the streamflow-measurement data.

First posted January 22, 2009

Revised March 5, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Office of Surface Water
U.S. Geological Survey
415 National Center
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192


David S. Mueller
U.S. Geological Survey
9818 Bluegrass Parkway
Louisville, Kentucky 40299

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Suggested citation:

Mueller, D.S., Wagner, C.R., Rehmel, M.S., Oberg, K.A,, and Rainville, Francois, 2013, Measuring discharge with acoustic Doppler current profilers from a moving boat (ver. 2.0, December 2013): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 3, chap. A22, 95 p.,

ISSN 2328-7047 (print)

ISSN 2328-7055 (online)



Significant Updates and Changes



Preparation and Equipment

Field Procedures

Office Procedures

Selected References


Appendix A – Basic ADCP Operational Concepts

Appendix B – Collecting Data in Moving-Bed Conditions

Appendix C – Description of Water-Tracking Modes

Appendix D – Beam-Alignment Test

Appendix E – Forms and Quick-Reference Guides

Appendix F – Measurement Processing Procedures

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