From Flight 370 Hunt, New Insight Into Indian Ocean’s Unknown Depths
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished with 239 passengers and crew aboard as it crossed the Indian Ocean, triggering a large-scale search for its remains that lasted nearly three years. As a byproduct of the tragedy, scientists have gained access to more than 100,000 square miles of seafloor mapped at a level of detail that provides a rare look at the ocean’s geological processes.
“It’s an incredible trove of data,” said Millard F. Coffin, a marine geophysicist from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania in Australia. “I’ve been working in this part of the Indian Ocean for 30-plus years and over many voyages in the eastern Indian Ocean I’ve never seen this level of resolution.”
“这是极其宝贵的数据，”澳大利亚塔斯马尼亚大学海洋和南极研究所(Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania)海洋地球物理学者米利亚德·F·科芬(Millard F. Coffin)说。“我研究印度洋这个海域30多年了，在东印度洋出海多次，但从没见过这种水平的分辨率。”
Dr. Coffin worked with a group of about 10 scientists from Geoscience Australia, the national geosciences agency in Australia, to analyze data from the search. They were given access to high-resolution sonar information collected on ships, and data obtained by remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater drones. The information was provided by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which led the search.
科芬和来自澳大利亚全国性的地球科学机构澳大利亚地质局(Geoscience Australia)的大约10名科学家合作，分析搜索过程中获得的数据。他们获准使用各船只收集到的高分辨率声呐信息，以及远程操作载具和水下无人潜航器获得的数据。相关信息由领导搜索工作的澳大利亚运输安全局(Australian Transport Safety Bureau)提供。
“When we look at these data, we’re constantly keeping in mind that we wouldn’t have this data if it weren’t for a terrible tragedy,” Dr. Coffin said. He and his colleagues published a summary of their findings on Wednesday in the journal EOS.
Previous satellite data provided scientists with information about the Indian Ocean at a resolution of about five square kilometers, or about two square miles. With the instruments from the search ships, they have collected information at a resolution of meters, and in some locations they have used remote operating vehicles and underwater autonomous vehicles to gain detail on the scale of centimeters.
The search has helped create three-dimensional maps of the ocean floor that reveal its topological complexity and will allow researchers to further investigate unique features like the oceanic plateau called Broken Ridge, and its southern-flank Diamantina Escarpment. The Flight 370 search also provided information about tectonic and volcanic activity, Dr. Coffin said.
搜索工作帮助绘制了海底的三维地图。它们揭示了海底复杂的地质情况，并让研究人员得以进一步调查独特的海底地形，如被称作布罗肯岭(Broken Ridge)的海底高原和它南边的迪亚曼蒂纳悬崖(Diamantina Escarpment)。科芬说，搜索370航班的工作还提供了有关地质构造和火山活动的信息。
The team plans to release more detailed looks into its findings later in the year, and the full data set from the search will be made available in the middle of the year.
Walter H.F. Smith, a geophysicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the hunt for the lost jetliner highlighted how little we know about the oceans. In a paper that was also published Wednesday in the journal EOS, he and his colleagues explained how common unmapped areas of ocean are.
美国国家海洋与大气管理局(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)地球物理学者沃尔特·H·F·史密斯(Walter H.F. Smith)说，寻找失踪客机的工作突显了我们对海洋的了解多么匮乏。在一篇同样于周三发表在期刊《EOS》上的文章中，史密斯和同事解释了未经探测的海域多么常见。
“There are all kinds of things you can’t do if you don’t know the shape of the ocean bottom, or don’t know it properly,” Dr. Smith said. The consequences of not knowing, he said, can hinder how experts predict tsunamis, understand ocean currents, make climate forecasts, study marine life and search for missing planes.
Previous studies have suggested that only 8 percent of the world’s oceans have been mapped, meaning that a ship measured an area’s depth and recorded it in a scientific database. Before Flight 370’s disappearance, only 5 percent of the southeast Indian Ocean had been mapped, Dr. Smith said.
To figure out how often people fly over unmapped parts of the world’s oceans, Dr. Smith and his colleagues compared data on mapped and unmapped segments of the world’s ocean segments with a database of commercial airline routes. They found that about 60 percent of all commercial flights that cross over the ocean travel over waters with unmeasured depths.
The longest contiguous route over unmapped ocean was from Kennedy International Airport in New York to Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in China, a journey over more than 1,200 nautical miles of unmapped ocean.
“I wanted people to realize that it’s not just Malaysia Airlines straying into the southeast Indian Ocean where it shouldn’t have been,” he said. “Even when your aircraft is exactly where it’s supposed to be, it might be over unknown ocean.”