Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester says the publication of high resolution maps of the Indian Ocean has uncovered no new information to warrant a resumption of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Geoscience Australia said on Wednesday it had released the sea floor mapping data covering 278,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean off the Western Australia coast.
Known as bathymetry data, the material being made available to the public features sea floor topography maps that show with a high resolution 6km wide and 15km long ridges that rise 1,500m above the sea floor, as well as fault valleys 1,200 metres deep and 5km wide.
The maps were used in the unsuccessful search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER 9M-MRO that disappeared on March 8 2014 enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing carrying 239 passengers and crew.
Australia, China and Malaysia agreed to suspend the search for the aircraft in January after scouring 120,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean.
The three countries said at the time they would be open to resuming the search effort if there was credible new evidence which led to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft.
However, Chester said the data released on Wednesday did not meet that requirement.
“No new information has been discovered to determine the specific location of the aircraft and the underwater search remains suspended,” Chester said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and sympathies continue to be with the families and friends of those who have lost their lives.
“We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.”
Some 20 items of debris believed to have come from the missing 777-200ER have been found along the east and south coast of Africa, the east coast of Madagascar and the Islands of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, including a wing flaperon that underwent Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) analysis in Canberra.
Geoscience Australia published a video of the overview of the MH370 search area on its YouTube channel:
Geoscience Australia noted only 10 to 15 per cent of the world’s oceans have been mapped using the sonar technology that was used in the search for MH370, with the maps produced having a resolution about 15 times higher than those previously available. It was one of the largest marine surveys ever conducted.
While the data was collected to assist in locating the Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER, Geoscience Australia environmental division chief Stuart Minchin said it also had valuable scientific uses.
“This data is unique both because of the remote location of the search area, and because of the sheer scale of the area surveyed,” Dr Minchin said in a statement on the Geoscience Australia website.
“This data will contribute to a greater understanding of the geology of the deep ocean and the complex processes that occur there; it will be important for a range of future scientific research, including oceanographic and habitat modelling. While tragically the aircraft has not yet been found, I am proud we could bring the organisation’s expertise to bear on such important work.”
Geoscience Australia said more data was being prepared for public release some time in mid-2018.
A Geoscience Australia video published in May explained the mapping of the ocean floor: