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Frontiers of Earth Science

Front. Earth Sci.    2018, Vol. 12 Issue (3) : 468-480     https://doi.org/10.1007/s11707-018-0693-0
RESEARCH ARTICLE |
Drift analysis of MH370 debris in the southern Indian Ocean
Jia GAO1,2,3, Lin MU1,3(), Xianwen BAO1, Jun SONG4, Yang DING1
1. College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China
2. National Marine Data and Information Service, Tianjin 300171, China
3. College of Marine Science and Technology, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China
4. School of Marine Science and Environment Engineering, Dalian Ocean University, Dalian 116023, China
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Abstract

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A flaperon from the flight was found on Reunion Island in July 2015. Two more confirmed pieces of debris were found in Mauritius and Tanzania, and 19 unconfirmed items were found off Mozambique, South Africa, and Madagascar. Drift buoys originating from the designated underwater search area arrived in Reunion Island, Mauritius, and Tanzania. Some of these buoys took a similarly long time as did real debris to reach these destinations, following a heading northeast and then west. For the present study, a maritime object drift prediction model was developed. “High resolution surface currents, Stokes drift, and winds” were processed, and a series of model experiments were constructed. The predicted trajectories of the modeled objects were similar to the observed trajectories of the drift buoys. Many modeled objects drifted northward then westward, ending up in Reunion Island, Mauritius, and Tanzania with probabilities of 5‰, 5‰, and 19‰, respectively. At the end of the simulation, most objects were located near 10°S in the western Indian Ocean. There were significant differences between experiments with different leeway factors, possibly because of the influence of southeast trade winds. The north part of the underwater search area is most likely to be the crash site, because the predicted trajectories of objects originating here are consistent with the many pieces of debris found along the east coast of Africa and the absence of such findings on the west coast of Australia.

Keywords MH370      debris      drift trajectory      drift buoys      surface currents      Stokes drift     
Corresponding Authors: Lin MU   
Online First Date: 21 May 2018    Issue Date: 05 September 2018
 Cite this article:   
Jia GAO,Lin MU,Xianwen BAO, et al. Drift analysis of MH370 debris in the southern Indian Ocean[J]. Front. Earth Sci., 2018, 12(3): 468-480.
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http://journal.hep.com.cn/fesci/EN/10.1007/s11707-018-0693-0
http://journal.hep.com.cn/fesci/EN/Y2018/V12/I3/468
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Fig.1  Underwater search area (UWSA) and areas where possible debris recovered. The black box is the UWSA; red circles indicate where confirmed debris was found; blue circles indicate where unconfirmed items were found.
Fig.2  Annual mean Stokes drift in the southern Indian Ocean in 2014.
Serial number Start date Leeway factor
Case 1 Exp. 1 3 March, 2014 1.2%
Exp. 2 3 March, 2014 1.5%
Exp. 3 3 March, 2014 1.8%
Case 2 Exp. 4 8 March, 2014 1.2%
Exp. 5 8 March, 2014 1.5%
Exp. 6 8 March, 2014 1.8%
Case 3 Exp. 7 13 March, 2014 1.2%
Exp. 8 13 March, 2014 1.5%
Exp. 9 13 March, 2014 1.8%
Tab.1  Design of experiments with and without Stokes Drift
Buoy ID Origin time in possible air crash area End time in Mauritius area Duration/days
34160 20030310 20041104 604
46048 20071109 20090625 593
70854 20071031 20091102 732
Tab.2  Information of buoys arriving in the Reunion Island area
Buoy ID Origin time in possible air crash area End time in Mauritius area Duration/days
2339263 20050320 20060425 400
46044 20060925 20080519 601
62576 20110213 20120414 425
9525791 19970524 20010823 1552
9525837 19980803 20020810 1467
Tab.3  Information of buoys arriving in the Mauritius area
Buoy ID Origin time in possible air crash area End time in Tanzania area Duration/days
2339263 20050320 20060714 481
30723 20030422 20040916 512
44055 20060731 20080405 613
46036 20051115 20080824 1013
53417 20070704 20081031 485
63814 20080101 20090609 524
Tab.4  Information of buoys arriving in the Tanzania area
Fig.3  Trajectories of surface drifting buoys originate from the UWSA and last more than 1 yr. The black box is the UWSA; red circles indicate where confirmed debris was found; blue circles indicate where unconfirmed items were found.
Fig.4  Trajectories of surface drifting buoys originating from the UWSA and enter the Reunion Island area, the Mauritius area, and the Tanzania area. The black box is the UWSA; red circles indicate where confirmed debris was found; blue circles indicate where unconfirmed items were found.
Serial Number Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Total Probability
1.2% 7 8 4 19 6‰
1.5% 5 2 8 15 4‰
1.8% 1 6 5 12 4‰
Total 13 16 17 46 5‰
Probability 4‰ 5‰ 5‰ 5‰
Tab.5  Number and possibility of the objects that finally reached the Reunion Island area (with Stokes Drift)
Serial Number Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Total Probability
1.2% 6 10 5 21 6‰
1.5% 5 4 5 14 4‰
1.8% 6 2 7 15 4‰
Total 17 16 17 50 5‰
Probability 5‰ 5‰ 5‰ 5‰
Tab.6  Number and possibility of the objects that finally reached the Mauritius area (with Stokes Drift)
Serial Number Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Total Probability
1.2% 18 13 12 43 13‰
1.5% 23 21 16 60 18‰
1.8% 36 29 24 89 27‰
Total 77 63 52 192 19‰
Probability 23‰ 19‰ 16‰ 19‰
Tab.7  Number and possibility of the objects that finally reached the Pemba Island area (with Stokes Drift)
Serial number With stokes drift Without stokes drift Difference
Case 1 Exp. 1 72.38°E, ?15.06°S 91.95°E, ?25.36°S ?19.57°E, 10.30°S
Exp. 2 70.71°E, ?14.03°S 88.45°E, ?25.07°S ?17.74°E, 11.04°S
Exp. 3 69.16°E, ?12.68°S 84.92°E, ?23.47°S ?15.76°E, 10.79°S
Case 2 Exp. 4 73.04°E, ?15.83°S 93.45°E, ?25.60°S ?20.41°E, 9.77°S
Exp. 5 71.95°E, ?14.30°S 89.09°E, ?24.72°S ?17.14°E, 10.42°S
Exp. 6 68.93°E, ?12.53°S 86.85°E, ?24.20°S ?17.92°E, 11.67°S
Case 3 Exp. 7 73.51°E, ?16.06°S 92.27°E, ?25.55°S ?18.76°E, 9.49°S
Exp. 8 73.56°E, ?14.60°S 90.21°E, ?24.95°S ?16.65°E, 10.35°S
Exp. 9 72.76°E, ?13.62°S 89.46°E, ?24.66°S ?16.70°E, 11.04°S
Tab.8  Average final locations of all objects with and without Stokes Drift
Fig.5  Trajectories of objects released at the same position with the 61 buoys in Section 4.1.
Fig.6  Simulated location of objects in three cases without Stokes drift. The black box is the possible air crash area; blue, black, and red dots represent objects with leeway factors of 1.2%, 1.5%, and 1.8%, respectively.
Fig.7  Simulated location of objects in three cases with Stokes drift. The black box is the possible air crash area; blue, black, and red dots simulate objects with leeway factors of 1.2%, 1.5%, and 1.8%, respectively.
Fig.8  Trajectories of objects in Experiment 5 (windage, 1.5%; start time, 8 March 2014) from (a) the south part, (b) the central part, and (c) the north part of the underwater search area.
Fig.9  Initial position of model objects that arrived in the Reunion Island, Mauritius and Tanzania areas in Experiment 5.
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