US Army Corps of Engineers
Pittsburgh District Website

Pittsburgh District beams rivers with sonar to help navigation, occasionally finds lost vehicles

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District
Published May 14, 2021
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George Brkovich and Brett Kelly, who work as a team to conduct waterway surveys for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, lower a multibeam sonar into the Allegheny River for a demonstration in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Brett Kelly, a geographer and sonar survey team member with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, monitors 3D imagery of the Allegheny River during a demonstration using a multibeam sonar in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, prepares a survey boat before heading out on a demonstration using a multibeam sonar on the Allegheny River in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, pilots a survey boat on the Allegheny River for a demonstration using a multibeam sonar in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A waterways survey team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District goes through a lock and dam on the Allegheny River to employ a multibeam sonar for a demonstration in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, pilots a survey boat on the Allegheny River for a demonstration using a multibeam sonar in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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Brett Kelly, a geographer and sonar survey team member with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, unwraps a multibeam sonar before a demonstration on the Allegheny River in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A waterways survey team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District rides on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, pilots a survey boat while Brett Kelly, a geographer and sonar survey team member, sets up imaging software on the Allegheny River for a demonstration using a multibeam sonar in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

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A waterways survey team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District employs a multibeam sonar during a demonstration on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)

PITTSBURGH Sometimes, surveying the waterways becomes more exciting than expected.

What was supposed to be a routine water survey turned into a vehicle recovery from the bottom of the Allegheny River in April.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
A waterways survey team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District goes through a lock and dam on the Allegheny River to employ a multibeam sonar for a demonstration in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-360

“We had a survey job to do, actually, up by Allegheny Locks and Dams 5, and on the way back, Brett and I thought, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and just scan this ramp over here,’” said George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District.

Brett Kelly, one of his survey teammates, is a geographer with the Pittsburgh District. He creates maps for the district’s geospatial section. The team’s survey boat is equipped with a multibeam sonar that can collect data to generate 3D imaging.

In 2020, Kelly and Brkovich helped local police on a missing person case, scanning various areas but turning up with nothing useful. In April, Brkovich had a hunch to do an impromptu scan after he and Kelly completed a district job. They decided to scan near a ramp in Springdale, Pennsylvania.

“I think we found something here, George. I think we found a car,” Kelly told his partner, who has been working for the district four years.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
Brett Kelly, a geographer and sonar survey team member with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, unwraps a multibeam sonar before a demonstration on the Allegheny River in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-305

A diver team recovered the car. According to news reports, police believe was set on fire and dumped into the river. Fortunately, nobody was inside, but it still made for an unusual find, Brkovich said.

Investigating for abandoned cars in the Allegheny River happens on occasion when law enforcement reaches out to the Pittsburgh District for help, but it is not their primary job.

As part of the Pittsburgh District, the two-man team conducts various surveys that help with navigation. The sonar collects data by sending out multiple, simultaneous sound waves in a fan-shaped pattern that can detect water depth and obstructions that may impact navigation within the Pittsburgh rivers. The data helps detect erosion over time.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, prepares a survey boat before heading out on a demonstration using a multibeam sonar on the Allegheny River in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-162

While Brkovich steers the boat, Kelly works a computer that controls the sonar and collects its data.

“I call them artists,” Brkovich said of Kelly and the other cartographers. “They put this all together using multiple sound beams hitting off the river bottom, and there’s disturbances here and there, and these guys get it together. They sit down and clean it up.  You get an end product that we can use for safety and navigation.”

Without this equipment, the district would have to outsource sonar surveying to contractors, which can get expensive, said Kelly. Plus, he enjoys this work.

“I love doing field work. I love being out,” Kelly said.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
A waterways survey team with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District employs a multibeam sonar during a demonstration on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-835

The team conducts underwater surveys two to three times a month, and sometimes they respond to more immediate needs, like a barge scraping the ground or striking something.

“We can go out and check it out immediately or within hours,” Kelly said.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, pilots a survey boat on the Allegheny River for a demonstration using a multibeam sonar in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-601

Brkovich said they often run multiple missions at once on the river. His main roles involve inspecting and issuing permits for marinas and barge docks. His mission helps the district work with state partners to ensure safe waterways for everyone who uses the Pittsburgh rivers, from 60-foot industrial barges down to recreational kayakers. The district’s regulatory department monitors approximately 332 miles of riverfronts. Brkovich also monitors water quality and assesses operations of 16 reservoirs.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
George Brkovich and Brett Kelly, who work as a team to conduct waterway surveys for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, lower a multibeam sonar into the Allegheny River for a demonstration in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-519

Brokovich has 19 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 20 more with the U.S. Coast Guard as a boatswain’s mate.

“I've been on the water for many years now. I love it. Yes, I do,” he said.

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Pittsburgh Distict employs multibeam sonar
George Brkovich, a waterways inspector with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, pilots a survey boat on the Allegheny River for a demonstration using a multibeam sonar in Pittsburgh May 7, 2021. The sonar helps provide the district with digital imagery that can detect water depth, erosion or obstructions that may impact navigation on the Pittsburgh rivers. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District photo by Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 210507-A-TI382-380