During search operations for Malaysian Airlines MH370, a 19th century shipwreck was located in 3,800m of water in the Southern Indian Ocean, some 1,700 km offshore of Western Australia. This presentation describes the data handling and analysis techniques used to investigate items of interest in some of the most remote and deepest waters on Earth. The seabed terrain includes canyons up to 800m deep that required a combination of deep-towed vehicles and an AUV to ensure complete coverage.
Side scan sonars are optimised for large area coverage and are used in conjunction with multi-beam echo sounders such that the backscatter data fills the nadir “gap”. Using a robust, methodical procedure, a team of interpreters and data processors systematically analyse the data, looking for areas of interest that may represent debris from the aircraft. The data is reviewed three times by independent specialists, both offshore and onshore. When an item or area of interest is identified, there is a staged process of using the AUV with a high frequency side scan sonar and operating at lower altitudes to verify whether the item or area may be part of a debris field. The AUV is then recovered and the bathymetry data processed to improve on the reconnaissance DTM. Once a good DTM for the area has been derived, a low altitude AUV camera pass is carried out, from which a photo mosaic of the detailed search area can be produced.
On one such investigation the wreckage of a ship was identified which not only provided some stunning images in such a deep-water environment but also helped to validate the search process.
The lecture is to be delivered by Magnus McNeil-Windle, Lead Geophysicist – MH370 Search.
Enjoy our usual get-together after the talk for refreshments and the opportunity to ask further questions.
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