New Discoveries about our Planet using Modeling, Eyes, and Brains

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating article “Searchers Refine Possible Path of Lost Malaysian Flight 370“.

Investigators have refined the possible flight path of a missing Malaysia Airlines jet using a set of probability tools that they say takes them closer to locating the jetliner in the southern Indian Ocean.

The was struck by the more-detailed explanation what they did:

The report recalculated Inmarsat satellite communications data, aircraft dynamics, wind, air and atmospheric temperature, along with a re-examination of fuel consumption and engine efficiencies to map possible flight paths and then test their validity.

The are reported to be using conventional computer modelling technology along with doing even more detailed assumptions of the modelling parameters and incorporating a probabilistic view. All good stuff. Someday they will find the plane and they will then be able to validate these models. In the meantime, this technology is their best view of what “might have happened”. I applaud their efforts.

The search is also having an unintended benefit of providing new insights, data, and mapping about a part of our planet where humans have never really yet looked. In the areas where they are searching the seabed is reported to be almost four miles deep. They are making discoveries:

The seabed, which has been mapped for the first time, is marked by volcanoes, plateaus and ridges, all of which have made the underwater search using towed sonar devices and an autonomous underwater vehicle extremely difficult.

Next step: How might these newly found volcanoes (they don’t say how many, but my hunch is they have discovered many), affecting the ocean chemistry and temperature?

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