The geochemistry of barnacle shells provides clues to where the barnacles have travelled.
Barnacles attached to debris from previously recovered Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 offer partial clues.
Scientists hope the larger barnacles from the debris will be available for research to determine the full path of the debris.
Just check the barnacles. This is how geoscientists at the University of South Florida say we can reconstruct the drift path of debris from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in 2014 with 239 passengers on board.
They also have science to back up their faith in barnacles.
When the piece of flaperon from MH370 ran aground on Reunion Island in July 2015, it was covered in barnacles. Lepas anatifera. This got Gregory Herbert, an associate professor in the USF School of Geosciences, thinking.
“The debris was covered in barnacles, and as soon as I saw this I immediately started emailing investigators because I knew the geochemistry of their shells could provide clues to the crash site.” , Herbert said in a statement.
He has now published a study in AGU Advances this shows how the inner layers of barnacles offer chemistry determined by the temperature of the water at the time the layer formed.
He also led an international search team to find a partial drift path of MH370 debris, through the search for small barnacles on the flaperon.
The team tracked live barnacles for the first time, obtaining temperature records of the shells. This worked well enough that the team gained access to the small barnacles from MH370 and combined the water temperature records of the barnacles with oceanographic modeling and successfully generated a partial reconstruction of the drift. They now only need to access the largest barnacles found on the debris to go further.
This type of research is not new to Herbert, who determined the age and extinction risk of giant conches and investigated the environmental circumstances surrounding the demise of the Jamestown colony.
“French scientist Joseph Poupin, who was one of the first biologists to examine the debris,” Herbert said, “concluded that the larger attached barnacles may have been old enough to have colonized the wreckage for a very short time. after the accident and very close to the actual accident site where the aircraft is currently located.
The drift path they discovered is further south than some previous reconstructions, but matches others showing that the flaperon MH370 had a southerly path in colder waters while drifting across the Indian Ocean. The piece started in warmer waters before moving into cooler waters for a “significant part of this last drift”.
To perform a full rebuild, the team must access these larger, older barnacles. “Unfortunately, they have not yet been made available for research,” Herbert said, “but with this study, we have proven that this method can be applied to a barnacle that colonized the debris shortly after littering. accident to reconstruct a complete drift trajectory. return to the origin of the accident.
Lost flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 and the search was fraught with difficulty from the start. It was suspended in January 2017. With a search area of thousands of miles, there is one thing that justifies any further effort, at least from the barnacles’ perspective. Indian Ocean temperatures can change rapidly in the region, which really puts extra weight on barnacle research.
“The plane disappeared more than nine years ago,” Nassar Al-Qattan, a USF geochemistry Ph.D. who helped analyze barnacles, said in a statement, “and we all worked to introduce a new approach to resuming research”.
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