Researchers use data from ocean drifters to aid analysis
MIAMI—A group of oceanographers offers a new analysis of the potential crash site of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. The researchers, who included scientists from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, used data from buoys that monitor ocean conditions.
In their analysis, team members considered the trajectories of drifting buoys, called drifters, from NOAA’s Global Drifter Database and of an ocean numerical model. The researchers included only data from drifters that were unanchored, or undrogued, to better simulate the buoyancy conditions of airplane debris. The team then produced a simulation model of drifter motion using known oceanographic conditions near the potential crash site.
The analysis showed that it would take six months to one year for the drifters to reach western Australia and one-and-a half to two years to reach eastern Africa. Interestingly, two drifters traveled from the search region to the area of Reunion Island during the period between the crash of flight MH370 and when the missing airplane’s flaperon was found.
These results are consistent with the time and location of the aircraft debris that was found off Reunion Island, almost 17 months after the plane disappeared, and with the recently confirmed finding in Mozambique almost two years later.
The trajectories of the undrogued drifters and synthetic drifters revealed several areas of high probability in the southern Indian Ocean where debris from the missing flight could have passed, including vast areas of the south Indian Ocean, some of them in the relative neighborhood of the search area.
This study “highlights the importance of sustained observations to monitor ocean conditions that may serve a suite of applications and studies,” the authors said.
The methods developed by the researchers for the study could also help scientists track oil spills and other types of marine debris and pollutants in the ocean.
The study, titled “Analysis of flight MH370 potential debris trajectories using ocean observations and numerical model results,” was recently published online in the Journal of Operational Oceanography. The coauthors include: M. Josefina Olascoaga from the Rosenstiel School; Joaquin A. Trinanes and Gustavo J. Goni from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami; Nikolai A. Maximenko and Jan Hafner from the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology; and David A. Griffin from CSIRO in Australia.