Why Is It So Hard For Modern Technology To Search For The Missing Malaysian Flight 370

The search for the missing Malaysian Flight MH–370 has been going on for more than a month now. Despite the multiple navies of the world deploying dozens of their finest warships, drones and helicopters, the search has still offered little conclusive evidence about the whereabouts of the missing jet.

Global efforts for searching the missing Malaysian flight MH-370

While on multiple occasions the missing MH–370 supposedly offered some clues about its location, there hasn’t been any confirmed sighting besides a few pieces of debris, which later turned out to be garbage. Now the hopes of the world are hinged on the telltale ‘pings‘ of the ‘Blackbox‘ (Flight Data Recorder) for which navy personnel are listening intently. But this is where the things get most complex due to the current presumed location; the great and treacherous Indian Ocean.

Debris spotted by helicopters which later turned out to be garbage

The Blackbox from the flight MH–370 has been supposedly sending some audio pings that have been picked up by naval warships’ audio–sensitive equipment, referred to as hydrophones. These underwater microphones are highly sensitive to any sounds that the ocean emits and they are able to store and relay those sounds for further investigation. Apart from the fact that the ocean makes a lot of noises, these sounds have to be individually filtered and analyzed so as to confirm one of them might be coming from the blackbox.

Standard Flight Data Recorder usually referred to as Blackbox

The search based on hearing pings from the blackbox of Malaysian Flight MH–370, might just be more difficult from making aerial sweeps and deploying humans to observe signs of floating debris. This is because of multiple reasons, but mainly hinge of the fact that sound behaves is a very different way as compared to how it flows in air, explained Paul-Henry Nargeolet, who has been asked to assist on underwater searches on multiple occasions in the past.

Sound waves travel at speed of 5000 feet per second underwater. In air it can manage to travel at a lot less speed of just 1,100 feet per second. Though this might surely help listen to the ping a lot sooner, the water has many tricks that can confuse the listener trying to affix the location.

Owing to large variations in temperature, salinity and water pressure, the path the sound takes changes greatly. In fact, depending on these parameters, sound can even travel sideways, or in zigzag patterns. This warping of sound travel greatly complicates affixation of origin. Moreover, low pitched sounds like that of whales travel further than high pitched sounds, which gradually lose their intensity, explained Peter Leavy, commander of the Military Task Force conducting the search.

The Indian Ocean is known to have very choppy waters

Unfortunately, Malaysian Flight MH–370’s locator pinger gives off very high pitched sounds in a range over 30 kHz (30,000 Hz). If this fact is combined with the choppy waters of the ocean and other noises, which can easily drown out the faint pings, it can make the search extremely difficult and confusing for the missing MH–370 Boeing 777.

[Images via Bing]