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New Delhi: Investigations are on to find out if the piece of plane debris found at Reunion, the French island in the Indian Ocean, is part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that went missing last year. But if it is indeed confirmed to be from MH370, how will investigators track the rest of the debris and the crash site?

“This (the discovery of the piece of debris) is a very significant development, of course," said David Griffin, a physical oceanographer at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) based in Canberra, Australia, in an email to Mint. The scientist, who’s involved in MH370 investigations, and his team, with the help of super computers, has been analyzing ocean currents and other factors to track the crash site and debris from the missing plane.

“Reunion is consistent with the 7th arc splash point, but so are many locations in the Indian Ocean," Griffin said.

MH370, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing carrying 239 passengers, went missing on 8 March 2014. If confirmed to be from the missing flight, the flaperon that washed ashore the French Island is possibly the first significant find in the search being carried out by a multinational team.

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has a Memorandum of Understanding with Australia Maritime Safety authority to provide scientific knowledge and technical support during a maritime incident such as the MH370 case, oil spills and shipping accidents.

A team of oceanographers is working on two approaches to the problem. Back-tracking the items spotted by satellite to a possible crash site, and forward-tracking to guide on-water searches. The oceanographers use a number of ocean models running on real time and are using them on southern Indian Ocean for the search.

So how do these models work?

“By stepping along a few hours at a time, adding the effect of current, wind and waves to step forward (or backward) the positions of many items floating in the ocean," explains Griffin, who leads the team of oceanographers tasked with tracking the debris using ocean modelling. Important to this tracking operation are satellites, Jason-2, Cryosat-2 and SARAL, capable of mapping ocean surface topography with an accuracy of more than 5-centimetres.

The biggest challenge, according to Griffith, is estimating the effects of current, wind and waves over a year. “Super computers running at our operational weather forecasting agency does this," he said. The team then creates a map of ocean conditions so that they can observe the contours of the ocean, or the sea level, and so they attempt to predict where items at the surface such as debris, are drifting.

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