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SonTek Technical Notes

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Pulse Coherent Doppler Processing and the ADV Correlation Coefficient

The information presented in this document applies to all SonTek Acoustic Doppler Velocimeter
systems: the 10 MHz ADV, the 5 MHz ADVOcean, and the 16 MHz MicroADV. Each of these
systems use the same signal processing algorithms and record the same type of data; they differ
primarily in the acoustic frequency used and the mechanical packaging of the instrument.
Throughout this document, they are referred to collectively as the ADV.
With each sample, the ADV records nine values: three velocity components, signal strength for
each of three receivers, and correlation coefficient for each of three receivers. Naturally, velocity
data are of primary interest; the other data are used primarily as data quality parameters. Signal
strength is a measure of the strength of the return reflection from the water; it can be accessed as
signal amplitude in internal logarithmic units called counts (1 count = 0.43 dB) or as signal to
noise ratio (SNR) in dB. Correlation coefficient is a quality parameter that is a direct output of
the Doppler velocity calculations.
Correlation is expressed as a percentage: perfect correlation of 100% indicates reliable, low
noise velocity measurements; 0% correlation indicates that output data is dominated by noise
with no coherent signal used for velocity calculations. Correlation is used to monitor data quality
during collection, and to edit data in post processing.
Ideally, correlation should be between 70 and 100%. Values below 70% indicate that the ADV is
operating in a difficult measurement regime, the probe is out of the water, the SNR is too low, or
that something may be wrong with the ADV. In some environments (highly turbulent flow,
aerated water), it may not be possible to achieve high correlation values. Low correlation values
affect the short term variability of velocity data, but do not bias mean velocity measurement. For
mean velocity measurements, correlation values as low as 30% can be used.
The above description provides general guidelines when using the correlation data as a quality
parameter. To understand the exact meaning of the correlation coefficient, and all factors
affecting it, requires a detailed discussion of ADV Doppler processing. An introduction is
provided in this document; additional references are provided at the end.
Pulse Coherent Doppler Processing
The ADV measures velocity using a technique called pulse coherent Doppler processing. The
system sends two short acoustic pulses and samples the return signal from each pulse as it passes
through the sampling volume. Pulse coherent Doppler estimates velocity by measuring the
change in phase of the return signal from two acoustic pulses. To illustrate this, consider the
simplified case of a transmit/receive acoustic transducer and a single acoustic target moving with
speed U relative to the transducer (see figure 1).

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At time T = 0, the transducer sends a
short pulse. It samples the return
signal at time T = dT, corresponding
to the reflection of the pulse from
the sampling volume. The system
measures the phase of the return
signal, φ1. This phase is a function
of the location X1 of the acoustic
At some time later T = T1, the
transducer sends a second pulse,
identical to the first. It samples the
return from this pulse at time
T = T1 + dT, corresponding to the
return signal of the second pulse
from the sampling volume. The
phase return from the second pulse
is a function of the new location X2 Figure 1 – Pulse Coherent Doppler Measurements
of the acoustic target.
The speed of the target during the time between the two pulses is determined from the measured
phases by the following relation.
U = (X2 - X1) / T1 = λ (φ2 - φ1) / (4 π T1 )

When measuring water velocity, the acoustic return is not the reflection from a single target but
the superposition of the reflections from the many individual particles. These acoustic scatterers
are contained in the ADV sampling volume which is defined by the beam geometry, the transmit
pulse length, and the receive window. If all scatterers maintain their relative positions with
respect to each other, so that the strength and relative phases of the individual reflections do not
change from one pulse to the next, they maintain what is called phase coherency. In this case, the
single reflector analogy applies, and the velocity of the scatterers can be estimated from the phase
In general, phase coherency is only partially maintained between the two pulses. The return
signal from the second pulse is not just a phase shifted replica of first return, but contains a
certain amount of random noise. This can be thought of as noise added to the coherent return
signal of each pulse.
S1' = S1 + N1
S2' = S2 + N2

Here S1' and S2' are the return signals from the two pulses, S1 and S2 are the coherent portion of
the signal, and N1 and N2 are the random noise added to each signal. The effect of this noise is to
add a random error to the measured phases, and hence to the measured velocities.
A measure of this noise is the ratio of the coherent signal power to the total power, which can be
expressed by the following relation.

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Si2 / (Si2 + Ni2 ).

This ratio is the ADV correlation coefficient. For signals with perfect phase coherence, the noise
term is zero and the correlation coefficient is 1 (100%). If the noise is much greater than the
coherent signal, the correlation coefficient approaches 0. The value of the correlation coefficient
is a direct measure of the random errors (Doppler noise) of the velocity data.
In practice, the ADV measures the phase change by comparing the return signals from each pulse
using a complex auto-correlation function. The phase of the complex auto-correlation gives the
phase change of the return signal and hence the velocity, while the normalized magnitude gives
the correlation coefficient. The auto-correlation routine performs the analogous function in the
time domain that a Fourier transform performs in the frequency domain.
The noise in ADV phase measurements is caused by a number of factors, the most important of
which are discussed below. When discussing noise in velocity measurements, we measure the
noise level by the standard deviation of velocity measurements.
Electronics Noise (SNR)
Figure 2 illustrates the effect of Doppler Noise Variation with SNR
electronics noise on the accuracy of 30

Doppler velocity measurements. The

noise effect is determined by the ratio
Noise Scaling Factor

of the strength of the return signal 20

from the water to the ambient
electronics noise level (signal to noise 15
ratio or SNR). The ADV calculates
SNR by comparing return signal 10
strength from the acoustic pulse to
signal strength when no pulse has 5
been sent.
Figure 2 plots the Doppler noise 0 10 20 30 40
SNR (dB)
scaling factor versus SNR. As SNR
decreases below 5 dB, the noise in Figure 2 – Doppler Noise vs. SNR
individual measurements increases by
more than a factor of 20. For SNR values greater than 20 dB, electronics noise has essentially no
impact on velocity measurements as the scale factor asymptotically approaches 1.
For ADV operation, when possible we recommend maintaining a SNR of at least 15 dB for high-
resolution velocity measurements (i.e. sampling at 25 Hz). For mean current measurements (i.e.
sampling at 1.0 Hz), a SNR of as little as 5 dB can be used. When operating in very clear water,
seeding material can be used to increase the SNR.
Residence Time
During the time between the two pulses, some particles will have moved out of the sampling
volume while new particles will have been introduced. The new particles contribute a phase
signal completely unrelated (un-correlated) to the phase of the other particles. Hence the phase
coherence between the two pulses will decrease over a residence time of order (d / U), where d is

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the typical size of the sampling volume and U is the velocity of the particles. If the residence
time is large with respect to the pulse lag (the time between two pulses), it will have little effect
on velocity measurements. If the residence time is of a similar magnitude to the pulse lag, the
de-correlation can have a significant impact on velocity data.
Sampling Volume Turbulence
Turbulent eddies with spatial scales on the order of the sampling volume size or smaller cause
the scatterers within the sampling volume to have a distribution of velocities. In this
environment, the particles within the sampling volume will not have the same relative positions
for the two pulses. Thus the phase change measured by the ADV (which is the sum of the return
from all particles) will have noise associated with the changing relative locations. The extent to
which the relative positions of particles in the sampling volume changes decreases the correlation
between the two pulses, and increases noise in velocity measurements.
Beam Divergence
Beam divergence results from the fact that the ADV measures the projection of the water velocity
onto the bistatic axis of the acoustic beams. Depending upon the physical location of the
scatterers within the sampling volume, the angle between the 3D water velocity and the
propagation direction of the pulse will change slightly (since the pulse spreads spherically with
distance from the transducer). This change in beam angle causes a distribution of velocities
across the sampling volume. This is analogous to the broadening of the velocity distribution
caused by turbulence, except that the diversity is caused by changes in the beam angle. Like
turbulence effects, the broadening of the velocity distribution caused by beam divergence
contributes to de-correlation and increased noise in velocity measurements.
Estimating Noise Levels
The last three items discussed above (residence time, turbulence, and beam divergence)
contribute to an increased distribution of measured velocities. In the frequency domain, this
appears at the broadening of the spectrum of the return signal. The width of the spectral peak is
known as the Doppler bandwidth (B), and is a fundamental parameter for estimating the noise in
Doppler velocity measurements. Brumley et al (1987, unpublished) estimated the contribution of
each effect to total Doppler bandwidth.
Residence Time: Br = 0.2 U / d
Turbulence: Bt = 2.4 (ε d)(1/3) / λ
Beam Divergence: Bd = 0.84 sin(ω) Uc / λ
Doppler Bandwidth: B2 = Br2 + Bt2 + Bd2

U = Relative velocity of scatterers
d = Half-power sampling volume width
ε = Turbulent energy dissipation rate
λ = Acoustic wavelength
ω = Two-way, half-power beam width
Uc = Cross-beam velocity component

Pulse Coherent Doppler Processing and the ADV Correlation Coefficient (November 1997) 4
Estimating Doppler noise for a pulse coherent system is a complicated function including pulse
spacing (the time between successive pulses), Doppler bandwidth, and signal to noise ratio.
These predictions are accurate only for idealized Doppler systems with continuous sampling of
the return signal and infinite resolution. For practical systems, they provide at best a lower
bound for instrument noise level.
The most important consideration for detailed analysis of ADV data is that noise in velocity data
is proportional to the Doppler bandwidth B. Low correlation values are an indication of
increased Doppler bandwidth, and hence increased noise levels in the data.
Although there are many papers on the subject of Doppler processing, we do not know of any
that deal specifically with the subject of pulse coherent Doppler processing and the correlation
coefficient in the context of acoustic Doppler systems. The list below gives a few papers related
to this subject.
R. Cabrera, K. Deines, B. Brumley, and E. Terray, “Development of a practical coherent
acoustic Doppler current profiler,” Proc. of the IEEE Fourth Working Conference on Current
Measurement, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, New York City, pp. 93-97,

R. Lhermitte and R. Serafin, “Pulse-to-pulse coherent Doppler sonar signal processing

techniques,” J. Atmos. and Ocean. Tech., Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 293-308, 1984.

K.S. Miller and M.M. Rochwarger, “A covariance approach to spectral moment estimation,”
IEEE Trans. on Info. Theory, Vol. IT-18, No. 5, pp. 588-596, 1972.

L. Zedel, A.E. Hay, R. Cabrera, and A. Lohrmann, “Performance of a single beam, pulse-to-
pulse coherent Doppler profiler,” IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, No. 21, pp. 290-
297, 1996.

D.S. Zrnic, “Spectral moment estimates from correlated pulse pairs,” IEEE Trans. on Aerosp.
and Electron. Systems, Vol. AES-13, pp. 344-354, 1977.

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