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Water-Supply Paper 2395

Discharge-Measurement System Using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler with Applications to Large Rivers and Estuaries

By Michael R. Simpson and Richard N. Oltmann


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Discharge measurement of large rivers and estuaries is difficult, time consuming, and sometimes dangerous. Frequently, discharge measurements cannot be made in tide-affected rivers and estuaries using conventional discharge-measurement techniques because of dynamic discharge conditions. The acoustic Doppler discharge-measurement system (ADDMS) was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey using a vessel-mounted acoustic Doppler current profiler coupled with specialized computer software to measure horizontal water velocity at 1-meter vertical intervals in the water column. The system computes discharge from water-and vessel-velocity data supplied by the ADDMS using vector-algebra algorithms included in the discharge-measurement software. With this system, a discharge measurement can be obtained by engaging the computer software and traversing a river or estuary from bank to bank; discharge in parts of the river or estuarine cross sections that cannot be measured because of ADDMS depth limitations are estimated by the system. Comparisons of ADDMS-measured discharges with ultrasonic-velocity-meter-measured discharges, along with error-analysis data, have confirmed that discharges provided by the ADDMS are at least as accurate as those produced using conventional methods. In addition, the advantage of a much shorter measurement time (2 minutes using the ADDMS compared with 1 hour or longer using conventional methods) has enabled use of the ADDMS for several applications where conventional discharge methods could not have been used with the required accuracy because of dynamic discharge conditions.

Posted April 5, 2010

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Suggested citation:

Simpson, M.R., and Oltmann, R.N., 1993, Discharge measurement system using an acoustic Doppler current profiler with applications to large rivers and estuaries: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2395, 32 p. (Also available at

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