In a breakthrough discovery, researchers have unveiled a novel approach to track debris from a plane crash that occurred over a decade ago. Surprisingly, barnacles play a crucial role in this method.
The investigation, published in AGU Advances, showcases how analyzing the chemical composition of barnacle shells thriving on remnants of the crashed aircraft offers valuable insights into the crash site's location.
This cutting-edge technique carries significant implications for pinpointing the primary wreckage of flight MH370—a Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. The aircraft, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 individuals, is believed to have gone down somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Notably, the complete remains of the plane have remained elusive. Nassar al-Qattan, a graduate in geochemistry from the University of South Florida who contributed to the study, emphasized the emotional drive behind this research, stating, 'Our collective determination to shed light on the tragic enigma pushed us to collect and publish this data.'
The method's motivation stems from the unresolved mystery surrounding the disappearance of MH370, which halted search efforts in January 2017. The team's innovative approach reignites hope for closure among the families affected by the tragedy. The presence of barnacle-covered debris from MH370 discovered on Reunion Island, near Africa's coast, was pivotal. Gregory Herbert, co-author and marine ecology associate professor at the University of South Florida, recognized the potential of barnacle shell chemistry in shedding light on the crash's circumstances. Herbert, with extensive experience in studying crustacean shells, devised a technique to extract historical ocean temperature information from shell chemistry, reflecting the conditions when each layer formed.
The research involved applying this method to barnacles found on MH370 debris. By merging shell measurements with oceanographic models, scientists developed a partial drift reconstruction, tracing the potential path of the debris since the crash. Though the barnacles studied were not present on the wreckage at the time of the crash, offering only a partial view, the method's effectiveness was demonstrated.
Herbert lamented the unavailability of the largest and oldest barnacles for examination. Nevertheless, the study successfully showcased the feasibility of using barnacles colonizing shortly after the crash to reconstruct a comprehensive drift trajectory leading back to the crash's origin.
French biologist Joseph Poupin, among the first to examine the aircraft's flaperon, suggested that the largest attached barnacles could have colonized the wreckage soon after the crash, possibly close to the crash site. Herbert highlighted the significance, stating, 'If these barnacles originated from the crash site, the recorded shell temperatures could considerably narrow down the search area.'
In essence, this groundbreaking research capitalizes on the unlikely alliance between barnacles and scientific expertise, rekindling the quest for answers surrounding the fateful MH370 disappearance."