What the search data for MH370 taught us about the Indian Ocean floor

Level 4, Electrical & Electronic Engineering Building
University of Melbourne


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Kate Murray


A large multibeam echo sounder (MBES) dataset (710, 000 km2, inclusive of transit data) was acquired in the SE Indian Ocean to assist the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). Here, we present the results of a geomorphic analysis of this new data and compare with the Global Seafloor Geomorphic Features Map (GSFM) that is based on coarser resolution satellite-derived bathymetry data.

The analyses show that abyssal plains and basins are significantly more rugged than their representation in the GSFM, with a 20% increase in the extent of hills and mountains.

The new model also reveals four times more seamounts than presented in the GSFM, suggesting a greater number of these features than previously estimated for the broader region and indeed globally. This is important considering the potential ecological significance of these high-relief structures.

This high-resolution mapping of the seafloor also provides new insights into the geological evolution of the region, both in terms of structural, tectonic, and sedimentary processes. For example, sub-parallel ridges extend over approximately 20% of the area mapped and their form and alignment provide valuable insight into Southeast Indian Ridge seafloor spreading processes. Rifting is recorded along the Broken Ridge – Diamantina Escarpment, with rift blocks and well-bedded sedimentary bedrock exposures discernible down to 2,400 m water depth. Ocean floor sedimentary processes are represented in sediment mass transport features, especially along and north of Broken Ridge, and pockmarks (the finest-scale features mapped) south of Diamantina Trench.

The new MBES data highlight the complexity of the search area and serve to demonstrate how little we know about the 85-90% of the ocean floor that has not been mapped with this technology. The availability of high-resolution and accurate maps of the ocean floor can clearly provide new insights into the Earth’s geological evolution, modern ocean floor processes, and the location of sites that are likely to have relatively high biodiversity.

About our speaker

Kim Picard is a marine geoscientist with Geoscience Australia’s Coastal, Marine, and Climate Change Group since September 2012. Her current research interests lie in shallow subseabed and benthic habitat mapping, geomorphology, and sedimentology. Since her arrival to Australia, she participated in many surveys, including the NERP Oceanic Shoal and Ball's Pyramid surveys. When not contributing to NERP, Kim's efforts have been focused on GA projects related to the National CO2 Infrastructure Plan.

Eventbrite - MH370 search data and the ocean floor with Kim Picard