(CN) – Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and its 239 passengers mysteriously disappeared while flying over the southern Indian Ocean in 2014. The plane has never been found, but a new mathematical approach could help discover its location, according to a new study released Tuesday.
In the study published in the scientific journal Chaos, an international research team says they have developed a new method of searching for potential plane crash sites that uses a combination of satellite data and something known as Markov chain models.
A Markov chain model, used in probability theory, predicts the outcome of complicated systems by determining the likelihood of each outcome based on the current state of what is being studied. The model is used in a variety of fields, including the modeling of financial markets and Google search algorithms.
The scientists used the model in conjunction with data from the Global Drifters Program, a program run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that uses satellites to track oceanographic devices called spherical buoys to investigate surface ocean currents.
The researchers then used data from the buoys to simulate where the plane debris could possibly float to.
“Surprisingly, after more than three years, there is only a handful of confirmed debris recovered from the airplane,” said lead author Philippe Miron from the University of Miami. “This increases the errors of the model.”
More than five years after it crashed, very little of the plane’s debris has been discovered. The starboard flaperon was discovered on the western Indian Ocean island of Reunion in July 2015, the first piece of debris found. Parts from the right stabilizer and right wing were found off the coast of Mozambique in 2016; in all only 18 pieces of debris from MH370 have been found to date.
Miron said that seasonal variation in the ocean required scientists to create three different models in order to accurately track possible debris movement since 2014.
“The monsoon in the Indian Ocean has important effects on the circulation of the region,” Miron said.
The research team says the likely location of the plane debris could be found 33 to 17 degrees south latitude along the arc of the last satellite to contact the plane.
Miron said he hopes the model will encourage increased deployment of trackable devices in the ocean to help solve similar problems in the future, including the flow of oil in oceans after underwater oil spills.