When it was decided that the Australia Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) would lead the search for MH370, they assumed responsibility for one of the most complex and challenging ocean mapping and seafloor search operations ever conducted. Technical analysis of the limited satellite communications data and aircraft flight information related to MH370 resulted in the establishment of a prioritized search area on the seventh arc in a remote portion of the southern Indian Ocean. Because the seafloor in this search area had never been mapped in detail previously, before a high-resolution seafloor search could commence, it was necessary to conduct a bathymetric survey to ensure that the seafloor search equipment could be operated safely.
Fugro was contracted by the ATSB to perform both the initial bathymetric survey and the subsequent seafloor search within the prioritized search area. This paper will examine the challenges in performing an underwater search in a remote area of the deep ocean during the Southern Hemisphere winter. It will focus primarily on the initial ocean mapping operation, where significant differences from the previously accepted and published depths were observed, but will also show how the results are being used in the subsequent seafloor search.