A College of South Florida geoscientist led a world crew of researchers to create a brand new methodology that may reconstruct the drift path and origin of particles from flight MH370, an plane that went lacking over the Indian Ocean in 2014 with 239 passengers and crew.


Affiliate Professor Gregory Herbert was impressed the second he noticed images of the airplane particles that washed ashore Reunion Island off the coast of Africa a yr after the crash.

“The flaperon was lined in barnacles and as quickly as I noticed that, I instantly started sending emails to the search investigators as a result of I knew the geochemistry of their shells might present clues to the crash location,” Herbert mentioned.

As an evolutionary and conservation biologist, Herbert research marine programs with a selected give attention to shelled marine invertebrates, reminiscent of oysters, conchs and barnacles. During the last twenty years, Herbert created and refined a way to extract ocean temperatures saved within the chemistry of invertebrate shells. Herbert has used the tactic beforehand to find out the ages and extinction danger of large horse conchs and examine the environmental circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the Jamestown colony.


Barnacles and different shelled marine invertebrates develop their shells each day, producing inside layers just like tree rings. The chemistry of every layer is set by temperature of the encircling water on the time the layer was shaped. On this research, revealed in AGU Advances, Herbert’s analysis crew did a development experiment with stay barnacles to learn their chemistry and for the primary time, unlocked temperature information from the shells of barnacles.

After the experiment, they utilized the profitable methodology to small barnacles from MH370. With assist from barnacle consultants and oceanographers on the College of Galway, they mixed the barnacles’ water temperature information with oceanographic modeling and efficiently generated a partial drift reconstruction.

“Sadly, the most important and oldest barnacles haven’t but been made accessible for analysis, however with this research, we have confirmed this methodology could be utilized to a barnacle that colonized on the particles shortly after the crash to reconstruct a whole drift path again to the crash origin,” Herbert mentioned.

Up up to now, the seek for MH370 spanned a number of hundreds of miles alongside a north-south hall deemed ‘The Seventh Arc,’ the place investigators consider the airplane might have glided after operating out of gas. As a result of ocean temperatures can change quickly alongside the arc, Herbert says this methodology might reveal exactly the place the airplane is.

“French scientist Joseph Poupin, who was one of many first biologists to look at the flaperon, concluded that the most important barnacles connected had been presumably sufficiently old to have colonized on the wreckage very shortly after the crash and really near the precise crash location the place the airplane is now,” Herbert mentioned. “In that case, the temperatures recorded in these shells might assist investigators slender their search.”

Even when the airplane is just not on the arc, Herbert says finding out the oldest and largest barnacles can nonetheless slender down the areas to go looking within the Indian Ocean.

“Understanding the tragic story behind the thriller motivated everybody concerned on this challenge to get the info and have this work revealed,” mentioned Nassar Al-Qattan, a current USF geochemistry doctoral graduate who helped analyze the geochemistry of the barnacles. “The airplane disappeared greater than 9 years in the past, and all of us labored aiming to introduce a brand new strategy to assist resume the search, suspended in January 2017, which could assist carry some closure to the tens of households of these on the lacking airplane.”

This analysis was achieved in collaboration with Ran Tao, USF spatial geoscientist; Howard Spero, professor emeritus from College of California, Davis; and barnacle consultants and oceanographers Sean McCarthy, Ryan McGeady and Anne-Marie Energy on the College of Galway.

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