How could ocean currents affect search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370?

March 21, 2014
How could ocean currents affect search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370?

Expert reaction to Australian search for potential debris from the missing Malaysian Airlines aircraft in the Indian ocean.

Professor Keith Haines, an oceanographer at the University of Reading's Department of Meteorology, said:

"The area of current search for possibly from the Malaysian Airlines plane is in an area of the deep far from land. Given the time period since a possible crash - almost two weeks - any debris found at the surface may not be located close to other debris that may have sunk to the sea floor at the time of a crash.

"In such deep ocean areas, tidal currents, of the type we are used to around the British Isles, are fairly small. However, the search is in a region near the northern edge of the Antarctic circumpolar current - a massive ocean current which flows from west to east around Antarctica, similar in strength to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic. This current would transport surface objects in a general southeastwards direction from the possible crash site.

"Currents can be strong - as fast as one metre per second (about 2.2mph, or similar to a steady walking speed) which could move surface debris by up to 1,000km over two weeks.

"However, currents don't always travel in a straight line. They can meander, and debris can also be blown by the wind if they project out of the water.

"Ocean forecast models can be used to assess the likely degree of transport, just as they are used for assessing oil spill impacts, and for search and rescue operations nearer to shore. The Met Office in the UK run such global ocean models incorporating up-to-date measurements from satellites, although the Australian Bureau of Meteorology will likely have the capability to run higher-resolution computer models for the search area."

Explore further: What has happened to the tsunami debris from Japan?

Related Stories

What has happened to the tsunami debris from Japan?

February 21, 2014

The amount of debris in the ocean is growing exponentially, becoming more and more hazardous and harmful to marine life and therefore also to our ocean food source. Measuring and tracking the movements of such debris are ...

Modeling surface circulation patterns in the Gulf of Mexico

March 19, 2014

During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists' understanding of the mesoscale surface circulation patterns of the Gulf of Mexico became a topic of great importance. With the oil slick growing, disaster response ...

Corals track strongest Indian Ocean current over 334 years

March 19, 2014

Natural variations in the warming and cooling cycles of the globally important Agulhas ocean current core region have been revealed in a new study of a Madagascar corals led by The University of Western Australia and published ...

Recommended for you

Can Paris pledges avert severe climate change?

November 26, 2015

More than 190 countries are meeting in Paris next week to create a durable framework for addressing climate change and to implement a process to reduce greenhouse gases over time. A key part of this agreement would be the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.