International researchers have used a new mathematical approach to analyzing the movement of debris in the ocean to determine a potential crash zone for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that extends north of areas already searched.
The analysis, using what are known as Markov chain models, arrived at a crash location for the missing Boeing 777 between latitudes 17°S and 33°S.
The findings include the second search area swept by Ocean Infinity, which extended as far north as 25°S, and the southern limits are consistent with the University of Western Australia and CSIRO drift modeling.
They could also provide ammunition for Independent Group calls to search an area beyond 25°S, although CSIRO experts believe it unlikely MH370 is that far north.
A Markov chain model predicts the behavior of complicated systems by determining the probability of each outcome from the current state of what is being studied. They have been used to power Google search algorithms and model financial markets.
In the study, reported in the journal Chaos, the group used data from the Global Drifters Program, a publicly available dataset that uses satellites to track spherical buoys as the ocean’s currents, waves and wind push them along paths over time.
The buoys were then placed on a grid with more than 3,000 virtual squares to simulate a destination for the plane debris.
However, the team acknowledged there were issues with their analysis, including the small amount of debris recovered so far.
“Surprisingly, after more than three years, there is only a handful of confirmed debris recovered from the airplane,” Philippe Miron, of the University of Miami and the lead author on the paper, said in a statement. “This increases the errors of the model.”
Seasonal variation in the Indian Ocean also required the team to develop three separate models to accurately predict debris movement during the protracted search effort.
“The monsoon in the Indian Ocean has important effects on the circulation of the region,” Miron said.
Miron said he hoped the group’s approach will encourage future efforts to deploy more trackable devices in the ocean to provide more data to solve similarly vexing problems.
This included the use of mathematical models to further understand how drifting objects move in the ocean, including the flow of hydrocarbons following undersea oil spills.