This week, it was reported that the Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield had detected multiple signals consistent with those emitted by the underwater beacons from a flight data recorder and/or cockpit voice recorder. While work continues to definitively identify, isolate and eventually retrieve the recorders — which hopefully are from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 — Australia continues to play a major role in the search and rescue effort: this includes the nation’s own science and research organisation, CSIRO.
In a recent media release, CSIRO’s Kirsten Lea outlines the organisation’s role in the search for the missing airliner. As it happens, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and CSIRO have a “Memorandum of Understanding”, which allows the former to request CSIRO’s help “during a maritime incident” and draw upon its technical and scientific expertise.
CSIRO’s main responsibility has been oceanography — that is, mapping sea currents using satellites, moorings and even robotic gliders. With this information, CSIRO oceanographers Dr Andreas Schiller and Dr David Griffin, along with a team of experts, have been back and forward-tracking the courses of spotted objects to help guide search and rescue (SAR) operations.
The models for these predictions are gathered via Australia’s Integrated Marine Observation System, or IMOS for short:
Three satellites (Jason-2, Cryosat-2 and SARAL) are particularly crucial to the work. The satellites are equipped with altimeters, which map ocean-surface topography, or the hills and valleys of the sea surface, with accuracy better than 5-centimetres. We also use data from several additional satellites which measure the temperature of the surface of the ocean as an additional source of information.
Even if the signals detected this week are indeed the FDR and/or CVR from MH370 and the units are recovered, investigators will still need to locate as much wreckage as possible; it’s conceivable that CSIRO’s oceanographic knowledge will be required for some time.