Using Water to Locate Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370




Scientists at Cardiff University have been working on a new way to locate large items in entering the oceans, and they’re doing so by using water! According to online resources from Science Daily, the researchers published their findings on October 24th, 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports. They believe the technology can be used to find large objects such as meteorites, aircraft pieces and other aerial wreckage, or other foreign objects as well as give a better understanding of underwater explosions and earthquakes which could cause concern to those of us on the shores. This week, we’re taking a dive under the sea to explore how this new technology works, how the study was conducted, and what this new information will mean for the future of underwater exploration.

water research

Getting Quality Water Sounds

The researchers responsible for this study used specially created hydrophones, or underwater microphones, to locate objects which impacted the ocean’s surface. The hydrophones measure acoustic gravity waves, or AGWs, to locate objects. How do they do it? It all starts when an large object hits the surface of the ocean. At the moment of impact, AGWs are created and start travelling the length of the ocean at the speed of sound. Scientists estimate that these underwater sound waves can travel for upwards of hundreds of kilometers and, using new the technology outlined previously, can be tracked to a single point of origin. That information will then make it possible for researchers to potentially estimate the size of an object, the location of the disruption, or the cause of the AGWs.

What’s In The Research?

The researchers who published this study set up on the coast of Western Australia and spent hours listening to and analyzing AGWs with hydrophones owned and operated by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, or CTBTO. They also used hydrophones to listen to the disruptions made by spheres which they dropped into a tank of water. This helped them understand how different height, weights, and distances from the surface impact AGW readings. They used all of the information they collected to test their findings on a real life event: an earthquake which occurred in the Indian Ocean. It turned out that their method was sound. They were able to accurately deduce the time and place of the earthquake in question.

water research

The Future of Listening to Water

While these feats may seem small, this new type of object location can be extremely useful when it comes to large scale search-and-rescue missions. The team who published the article actually attempted to use the knowledge they gained to try to track the remnants of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 which disappeared from its course on March 18, 2014. They actually cited interest in that incident as one of the initial motivations for their study. After listening to the hydrophone recordings which the CTBTO made available, they were able to pick up on two very weak but recognizable signals. However, the researchers noted that they were not able to definitively state whether or not either of the recorded noises were due to the lost aircraft. In the future, this scientific research could mean that recordings from hydrophones can help rescuers identify and locate the cause and area of an oceanic catastrophe.