School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering

UWA engineer uses supercomputer in ongoing MH370 search


Professor Chari Pattiaratchi

Professor of Coastal Oceanography

8 March 2016

A University of Western Australia engineer is using one of Australia’s most powerful supercomputers to refine the search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370.

On the second anniversary of the world’s biggest aircraft mystery, Professor Chari Pattiaratchi says the supercomputer modelling confirms authorities are focusing the search on the correct area, in the southern Indian Ocean.

Professor Pattiaratchi is a coastal oceanography expert with the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering (CEME) at The University of Western Australia.

His expertise has helped guide initial search efforts and more recently he has conducted ocean current simulations using the resources of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth.

Professor Pattiaratchi says while initial simulations could be done on a laptop, as the search developed more sophisticated computing power was required.

“The Pawsey Centre said if you want to do some additional simulations, we will give you computer time,” Professor Pattiaratchi says.
“So they allocated time on the supercomputers to us and also a programmer to work with, and then we did a whole lot of simulations along the seventh arc, looking at if debris were released at different locations where it would end up.”

Only one piece of confirmed MH370 debris has been found, a flaperon discovered on Reunion Island in July 2015.

The simulations suggest the search efforts are focusing on the right spot and do not support calls to move the search area north towards Java.

“If you released the debris further north of the main search area, it would have got to Reunion Island much quicker, maybe three or six months earlier,” Professor Pattiaratchi says.

“If you released it south of the main search area, it still wouldn’t have got to Reunion Island.

“So where the search is looking at is about the right place, for that debris to end up in the vicinity of Reunion Island in that timeframe.”

Last week, a piece of suspected debris was found in the Mozambique channel by independent MH370 searcher Blain Gibson, who had been guided in his efforts by Professor Pattiaratchi.

“He visited me and we spent a whole day chatting about it and I said: ‘If you really want to find it, that’s the area you want to have a look at—somewhere around Madagascar, Mozambique, that area’,” says Professor Pattiaratchi.

In the past few days, another suspected piece of MH370 wreckage has been found on Reunion Island by the same person who found the flaperon last year.

Professor Pattiaratchi says if there is more debris from the missing plane still drifting in the Indian Ocean, it could eventually veer away completely from the vicinity of east Africa.

“In fact, if there is more debris around, in a few years it might come the whole circle and reach Western Australia’s shoreline,” he says.


School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering

This Page

Last updated:
Tuesday, 8 March, 2016 9:40 AM