Seafloor maps may provide answers to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. 

Two experts on the geology of seafloors have joined together to produce a new map of the area most people believe the flight went down. The map details the topography in the region, including prominent ridges and plateaus. An area 1,243 miles long by 870 miles wide is shown in the new chart. 

Walter H.F. Smith and Karen M. Marks, each from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, headed this project. Using publicly available data from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), the team was able to map out the region in precise detail. This information could allow search parties to locate areas where the plane may have crashed without a trace. 

Equipment could also be allocated to certain regions where they are best-suited, based on the new map. For instance, the Bluefin-21 submersible scouting for acoustic signals cannot detect such evidence more than 2.8 miles under the water. However, the deepest area on the map lies 4.9 miles beneath the surface. 

Flight 370 was lost on 8 March 2014, after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, headed toward Beijing. The last communication with the craft was heard 38 minutes after takeoff, and the transponder went silent two minutes later.  Most investigators believe the aircraft crashed somewhere in the southeastern Indian Ocean, after losing guidance and running out of fuel. The Malaysian military picked up an unidentified object flying west 54 minutes later, but it is still not certain if this was the aircraft. The whereabouts of that vehicle, and the 238 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft, remain unknown. 

The seafloor analysts were clear this map is not meant to help find the missing aircraft, nor is the area they mapped the only place the wreckage could be located. 

"Little is known about the seafloor from ship-borne echo sounder measurements in the region where flight MH370 is believed to have crashed," researchers wrote in the journal article announcing their development of the chart. 

Much of the ocean floor still remains unknown in detail. Satellites use altimetry to map the ocean floors This method revealed much that was previously unknown about the underwater crust. But, altimetry has a low resolution, meaning detail is not revealed. Echo soundings, taken from boats, provide a far better view of the seafloor, but that has only been carried out for five percent of the ocean bottom. 

Smith and Marks pointed out the surface of Mars is known in better detail than many area of the ocean floor. Vast oceans make mapping difficult on our home world. 

Development of the map was profiled in the journal Eos, published by the American Geophysical Union.

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