MH370 search teams ignored ‘Stokes drift’, say researchers

The search for the final location of MH370 has been fruitless so far. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Researchers say ignoring “Stokes drift” – or ocean drift – can lead to major errors in the search for missing aircraft, as in the case of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

A study by the researchers says teams trying to find the final location of MH370 could have been looking in the wrong place, Britain’s Mirror reported.

British, German and French scientists said along with surface ocean currents and wind, the so-called Stokes drift was of central importance for calculating how debris from the aircraft drifted before making landfall.

“For any application where surface drift is studied, Stokes drift should be included to provide more precise tracking results,” the report quoted lead investigator Jonathan Durgadoo as saying.

It said that after the hunt for MH370 proved fruitless, researchers from different backgrounds continued their work on simulating the drift of marine debris.

The goal was to establish strategies for future quasi-real-time applications of the drift of objects or organisms in the ocean, it said.

“They addressed the importance of considering surface waves in the calculations, of using advanced simulation techniques and statistics, and whether or not the use of more pieces of debris would refine their results.

“The researchers assessed the differences in using the methods of forward- and backward-tracking in time.

“The path of an object can be traced back in time or can be predicted,” the report said.

It quoted Durgadoo as saying the different tracking approaches provide a robust methodology and enable an assessment of uncertainties.

“These can be minimised by simulating sufficient numbers of virtual objects,” he said.

MH370, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, disappeared on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board.

While the exact location of the Boeing 777 remains unknown, researchers hope their new model taking into account ocean drifts will help in future searches.

“The exercise of estimating the surface drift of debris from MH370 has led to an improved preparedness for future applications,” the Mirror report quoted Durgadoo as saying.

The researchers’ latest study was published in the Journal of Operational Oceanography.