Sonar Demonstration -- Human Sound Wave

Kent M. Syverson, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Author Profile


Sonar technology allowed scientists to produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor for the first time. This sonar demonstration uses a Human Sound Wave to image the "sea floor" in a lecture hall. In doing so, students can see two-way travel times collected and plotted in real time. Students also evaluate sources of error that can be applied to a real sonar device.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



Geology 102--Oceanography, 3 semester credits, three 50-minute lectures/week, taken by 150 to 200 students per semester. An undergraduate-level, optional course used by many students to fulfill part of their natural science general education requirement. The course has no prerequisites.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

Demonstration in the history of oceanography unit -- typically the second lecture of the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Learn the different parts of a working sonar device.
  • Use two-way travel times to calculate water depth.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Evaluate sources of error associated with the demonstration and then consider the implications for a real sonar device.
  • Predict how water density changes with depth and how this will impact the velocity of sound.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students use basic algebra skills to derive the equation for converting two-way travel time data into water depths.

Description and Teaching Materials

A pdf is attached with a full description of the Human Sound Wave sonar demonstration and some hints for using the demonstration in a classroom. Demonstration only requires a stopwatch and a whiteboard.
Sonar Demo -- Human Sound Wave (Acrobat (PDF) 129kB Jun3 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

See the attachment for a list of teaching notes under "Other Miscellaneous Notes." Works best for an instructor who does not take himself/herself too seriously...


My questions during the demonstration are used to determine if the students are able to calculate water depth and evaluate the sources of error.

Exam questions are used to determine if students know how a sonar device works and the significance of sonar for the understanding of the world's oceans.

References and Resources