The search for missing flight MH370 in the so-called 7th Arc in the Southern Indian Ocean is nearing an end. While the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 and its 239 passengers are still yet to be found after two and a half years of searching, the findings of the search so far are to become freely available.
The Australian Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester announced this week that all sonar data on MH370 would be released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). The sonar data would be from 120,000 square kilometres of the 7th Arc in the southern Indian Ocean, off southwestern Australia.
A “comprehensive report” on all aspects will also be made public when the operation ends in late December. “This is in addition to the search area definition and debris analysis reports which have been released periodically throughout the search,” Chester added.To get stories like this delivered to your mailbox every week, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
The search was actually divided into two phases: a bathymetric survey, followed by a high definition search. Three vessels—the Chinese survey ship Zhu Kezhen supported by the Malaysian ship Bunga Mas 6 and the Dutch vessel Fugro Equator– were contracted by Geoscience Australia and spent months at sea in late 2014 and early 2015, scanning the sea floor with multi-beam sonar to gather detailed, high-resolution data.
Their data was later processed into detailed maps and three dimensional fly-throughs at Geoscience Australia in Canberra. Subsequent mapping was generated with a definition of 40 to 110 metres per pixel.
Scanning has continued since then, and led to the discovery of unknown sea mounts, submerged vessels and geological structures. While much of the data has already been revealed to the public, the complete dataset could help third parties better understand the search area, deep ocean geology and perhaps shed light on overlooked findings.
Details of the search
A recent Spatial Source article by Jon Fairall explored how the 7th Arc became the focus area of the search. Next week, Part-2 of the article will explore the details of the search operations and the data acquired to date.
To make sure you don’t miss part-2, sign up to the spatial newsletter to read it when it is first published on Spatial Source. Otherwise you can read it in full in the June/July issue of Position magazine.
The next phase
Last week the ATSB also revealed that investigators were planning a second phase of the search based on revised drift modelling using replica flaperons in the southern Indian Ocean. They hoped that this modelling would provide evidence needed to continue the search beyond the current priority zone. Earlier this year, drift simulations by German oceanographers suggested that the crash site was different from that currently being searched.