Operational Oceanography in support of the search for MH370
Event: 2015 Ocean Surface Topography Science Team Meeting
Session: Application development for Operations (previously NRT splinter)
Presentation type: Type Oral
On 30 July 2015 the world's media focused again on one of the most mysterious tragedies of our time: the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 16 months earlier. The focus of attention was the flaperon that washed up on Reunion, east of Madagascar. Operational ocean modelling had been used in the initial 6-week search of the ocean surface for debris but none was found. One reason for that was the huge uncertainty of the splashpoint, which ranged during the search to much lower latitudes than are now thought to be likely. The finding of the flaperon immediately ignited questions of whether its location on Reunion was consistent with current estimates (based on the Inmarsat handshakes, etc) of where the plane entered the water. At the time of writing (3 days after the finding), we have advised the authorities that the Reunion finding 'does not cast doubt' on the present understanding of the splashpoint area, which is still being searched with side-scan sonar. Indeed, landfall in the Madagascar region was foreshadowed a year ago. But nor can the finding be used to refine the bounds of that area, since splashpoints in many parts of the east Indian Ocean are also consistent with the finding, because of ocean eddies and various uncertainties. The trajectory modelling (both forwards and backwards in time) performed to produce this advice used the operational wind, wave and ocean current analyses that society now assumes to be a mature service.