The fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 could finally be solved with an ambitious $3billion plan to map Earth’s entire ocean floor.
Malaysian airliner MH370 disappeared five years ago this week. On March 8, 2014, MH370, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 people disappeared between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. Although debris discovered along the Indian Ocean coastline narrowed previous searches, the wreckage site was never found.
But now an ambitious project to map Earth’s entire ocean floor could “absolutely” piece together the puzzle of the missing Malaysian airliner MH370, a leading expert has said.
The Seabed 2030 project will map the entire ocean floor by using cutting-edge to explore every contour within ten years. Seabed 2030 could supply the answers still sought by the families of the missing MH370 passengers.
The search for MH370 is now the longest and most expensive search ever undertaken for a commercial plane. A £100 million underwater effort to search for MH370 by Malaysia, China and Australia was suspended after making little progress two years ago.
Scientists leading the $3billion (£2.2billion) Seabed 2030 project have revealed only nine percent of the world’s ocean floors have so far been mapped in high definition. This means we know more about the surface of other planets than we do the depths of our own world.
Seabed 2030 team member Geoffroy Lamarche said: “If you go to the deep water, to the deep sea, right up in the centre of the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean, you actually could miss entire mountains.”
A total of 71 percent of Earth’s surface is covered with water but less than one fifth has been mapped – and only half of this used high-resolution imagery.
The project launched in 2017 and is expected to cost about £2.3 billion ($3 billion).
So far, the biggest data contributors to Seabed 2030 have been companies – in particular, Dutch energy prospector Fugro and deep-sea mapping firm Ocean Infinity.
High-tech multibeam echosounders transmit a fan of acoustic beams from a ship, which pingback depending on the depth and topography of the ocean floor. That creates data points, which can be converted into a map.
‘With advanced sonar technology, it really is like seeing. I think we’ve come out of the era of being the blind man with the stick,’ said Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey.
‘We can survey much more efficiently – and, not only that but in much greater detail,’ he said, adding that the work was painstaking.
‘The ocean’s a big place!’ he said.
Some parts of the oceans – the east coast of the United States, areas around Japan, New Zealand and Ireland – are relatively well mapped, experts said. Others, including the West African coast or that off the Caribbean, remain largely blank.