Abstract—In this paper, a new method for the estimation of seabed elevation maps from side-scan sonar images is presented. The side-scan image formation process is represented by a Lambertian diffuse model, which is then inverted by a multiresolution optimization procedure inspired by expectation–maximization to account for the characteristics of the imaged seafloor region. On convergence of the model, approximations for seabed reflectivity, side-scan beam pattern, and seabed altitude are obtained. The performance of the system is evaluated against a real structure of known dimensions. Reconstruction results for images acquired by different sonar sensors are presented. Applications to augmented reality for the simulation of targets in sonar imagery are also discussed.