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University of Southampton Malaysia

Southampton academics provide expert media comment as search for MH370 continues

Published: 2 April 2014

As the multi-national search for evidence of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, academics from the University of Southampton have provided the world’s media with expert insights linked to aspects of the investigations.

Dr Simon Boxall, Lecturer in Ocean and Earth Sciences from the University's Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences, has spoken to media outlets around the world on aspects of  tidal drift and ocean currents in the Southern Ocean. Speaking on the BBC's ‘Newsnight' television programme, Dr Boxall underlined the volume of debris to be found in the world's oceans and the difficulty of linking these items to flight MH370 with any degree of certainty.

"We expect to see high concentrations of material in various sizes in this part of the ocean," he said. "Trying to distinguish between what is a pallet or a container - a whole variety of things - from parts of an aircraft is impossible from a satellite and even from a high altitude aircraft," Dr Boxall continued. "Until we can actually get this debris in our hands from a ship we can't identify this positively."

Dr Sarvapali Ramchurn is a Lecturer and Roberts Fellow in the Agents, Interaction and Complexity Group within Electronics and Computer Science. His comments for The Guardian newspaper and Sky News in the UK focused on the unprecedented volume of data being accessed by experts and agencies around the world - including information and analysis presented by the general public.  

"Throwing thousands of satellite pictures at the crowd for them to check for debris is like asking them to look for a needle in haystack; it's going to be a boring and frustrating search," Dr Ramchurn said. "The worst part is that the search is being done by lots of people who don't know what the needle looks like and what part of the haystack has already been searched or is most likely to contain the needle.

"It's like constructing a puzzle where different countries, planes, ships, and sensors own different parts of the puzzle," he continued. "Getting the pieces in one place is only the first step. Understanding how they fit together would require a combination of human and artificial intelligence."

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