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Time to search deeper in the ocean for missing flight MH370

The search for missing flight MH370 isn’t over in the Southern Indian Ocean – it’s just going deeper in an attempt to cover the ocean floor over a much wider area. Much of the search effort so far has…

The search is over only for the Bluefin-21 underwater probe on board the Australian Navy’s Ocean Shield, now returning to port in WA. EPA/Chris Beerens/Australian Defence Department

The search for missing flight MH370 isn’t over in the Southern Indian Ocean – it’s just going deeper in an attempt to cover the ocean floor over a much wider area.

Much of the search effort so far has been carried out by the autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle Bluefin-21 on board the Australian Navy vessel Ocean Shield.

But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) this week said Bluefin-21 had completed its search over 850 square kilometres of ocean floor and had found no debris from the Malaysian Airlines aircraft.

Given the amount of time and effort spent on scouring such an area (not much bigger than the size of metropolitan Sydney) it will be virtually impossible to scale up an underwater search over the entire Indian Ocean.

The Bluefin-21 underwater search probe could only go so deep. EPA/Bradley Darvill/Australian Defence Department

The ATSB is now working with the Chinese Navy to carry out a bathymetric survey to map and measure the depths of the ocean floor.

This new survey will cover a much greater area of up to 60,000 square kilometres and depending on the weather could take up to three months to complete.

Such a bathymetric survey, performed from ships themselves, will likely not show the plane itself, though. For that we will need to get much closer to the ocean floor.

But the bathymetric survey might provide a baseline on the ocean floor. We currently have accurate maps of only 5% of the search area, and most of those data actually come from ships before the GPS era, which had to get their location from celestial navigation and were not nearly as accurate as today’s research vessels.

Understanding what’s down there

Better knowing what the ocean floor looks will help in modelling how sound echos off undersea mountains. There are a number of sets of underwater microphones around the ocean for research purposes and other uses, including enforcing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Recordings from these microphones are now being analysed because they may have been able to detect the noise of an ocean impact by MH370. The better we know the bathymetry of the area, the better we can try to reverse engineer where the sound came from, taking into account all the echos.

It will also help to assess what kinds of submarines are needed to go down, if the search team decided to do that again. The floor of the Indian Ocean in the region is rather hilly, with some areas not much deeper than 2,000 metres and other regions more than 7,000 metres deep.

Because there are only a handful of submarines in the world that can actually get to these abyssal depths, it is important to know what the minimum specifications of the submarine have to be.

Especially since the world’s premier ocean research institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, lost its deep-diving submersible Nereus a few weeks ago, there are not too many submarines to choose from.

Nereus was designed to explore the deepest parts of Earth’s ocean but is now lost at 9,990 metres depth in the Kermadec Trench northeast of New Zealand. Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The loss of this submarine also shows just how technically challenging it is to work at these great depths.

What about those pings?

Part of the search effort in the Southern Indian Ocean was directed at an area where four pings were heard and thought to be from the flight data recorder of MH370. But reports this week have cast doubt on the source of those underwater sounds.

The ocean is a cacophony of sounds. Since sound is the only way to communicate in sea water, everything from whales to tiny shrimp make sounds that can travel over hundreds of kilometres.

Pistol Shrimp sonic weapon - Weird Nature - BBC wildlife

But there are also a lot of man-made sounds, from ships and even our own scientific instruments. As sound can travel in complicated paths, it is sometimes hard to localise where exactly a sound came from.

If anything, this search shows just how difficult it is to scour the deep oceans.

The team that were put onto the job – the Australian Navy to analyse the sounds and oceanographers from CSIRO to model the currents – are among the best-equipped people in the world to do this search. That they have now chased what turned out to be a false lead for so long just shows the complexity of their task.

The long wait for answers

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 left Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8 headed for China’s capital Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

An international effort: Co Pilot Sqn Ldr Brent McKenzie on the Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion taking part in the search. EPA/Richard Wainwright

The international search effort has so far not found any evidence on where the aircraft may have come down.

No single piece of debris from the plane wreck has been found. With time passing, it is becoming less likely we will ever find something of the plane washing up on our beaches.

As the waves and wind bend and break the debris into smaller and smaller pieces, it will become more difficult to identify them.

There is so much rubbish that gets washed up on beaches everywhere around the world, that unless a piece of debris actually has the words “Malaysian Airlines” written on it (or an identifiable aircraft serial number), it is virtually impossible to pick out the pieces from the plane.

Ocean exploration is technically challenging, painstakingly slow and very costly, as this search for MH370 has shown.

But the search also shows us that we need to understand our ocean better. We know more of the surface of Mars than of the bottom of our ocean, even though that covers 70% of our planet.

Join the conversation

60 Comments sorted by

  1. David Stein

    Businessman

    While I understand and sympathize with the families of people on board the plane, it's fast approaching the time where tax dollars would be better spent on live people.

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    1. Joseph Ferguson

      Doctoral Candidate in Science Education at Deakin University

      In reply to David Stein

      I tend to agree with you David. Very much sympathise with the family members of those who have died, but wonder what exactly will come of finding the aircract (if it ever happens).

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    2. Forgetful Orange

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Stein

      The problem here is that the ultimate cause of MH370's disappearance could be a problem that is generic to this aircraft model (engine/electronics/mechanical etc). Giving up without knowing what the problem was puts at risk the thousands of people that are still travelling on this plane everyday.

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Forgetful Orange

      Quite so. That is why such great efforts are made to find out the cause of aviation disasters. It's not really anything to do with assuaging the grief of the families.

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    4. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Forgetful Orange

      Forgetful - I disagree. At some point, I think we are at or even past the point where marginal safety value of understanding a one-in-a-million problem with the aircraft (if indeed that's what it is) is outweighed by the marginal cost of finding and understanding the problem.
      PS - nice name.

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    5. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Stein

      But who says it was a one-in-a-million problem? The problem hasn't been determined yet. If there is some design fault that allows for the aircraft to catch fire, it should be identified. I understand your point about marginal costs, but remember that one aircraft loss nowadays costs a very great deal of money - off the top of my head, maybe half a billion US dollars for this one.

      And, Forgetful Orange, we are supposed to use real names on this forum.

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    6. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Hi Thomas, If indeed it's a mechanical / design problem, I say it's a one-in-a-million since the plane has an excellent safety record and has been flying for 2 decades without any problems.
      The 777 is likely at the end of its manufacture run - those that roll off the line in Seattle today will likely be flying for another 2 decades. If it has taken 2 decades for a single accident of this nature - and as I say, we don't even know if it's design related, then the probability is it will take another 2 decades for a second such incident.
      These are risks that should be acceptable to all of us. I don't want a single additional tax dollar spent on this, rather than schools or hospitals, to improve the risk of something that has an infinitesimally small risk in any event.

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    7. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to David Stein

      This argument is not watertight. For a start, all aircraft are often modified during their production run, and there may be something about this particular variant. Or it may be a maintenance problem of some type. Or an operational problem. Or the problem could be related to the cargo that was being carried, about which some significant questions remain.

      I'm sorry, but I don't buy the argument "it never happened before for a long time, so it won't happen again for a long time, and we don't need…

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    8. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Good points Thomas - that's helpful - particularly about the variants - not something I thought about. I should read through the other comments in more detail. I see you have many other comments below.
      I still think there are vastly better ways to spend tax dollars to achieve better human outcomes but that's probably a broader discussion for another thread!

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    9. Peter Anderson-Stewart
      Peter Anderson-Stewart is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Medical scientist

      In reply to David Stein

      "... tax dollars would be better spent on live people."

      This is utter small mindedness of the first water ...

      This is not how air-sea search and rescue operates world wide ...

      You want out of this?

      Feel free to lobby your appalling government about it, I'm sure, given their bizarre obsession with "user pays", they'd agree wholeheartedly.

      Want your government to save some money?

      Don't implement the sea-going solid gold fur lined PPL.

      Don't rescind the carbon price.

      Don't rescind the mineral mining tax (in fact, bring back the original 2010 version).

      Just those three would give your government orders of magnitude more money than the pittance you are whining about here.

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    10. Vrais Le Faux

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Stein

      Just to put it into perspective, the cost of the search runs at around $60 mln.
      In 2013, taxpayers spent $56.7 mln on organising the F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne.

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    11. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Peter Anderson-Stewart

      Rather sophomoric Peter.
      Carbon price? PPL? What are you talking about?
      It's no longer a search and rescue operation - another irrelevancy.
      Apart from our human desire to return remains of the dead to their families, the sole reason to continue the recovery operation is to determine if there are any problems with the plane. Potentially, maybe, perhaps. The cost-benefit to humanity is dramatically out of proportion. Multiples would be assisted if the money were spent on clean water, or immunizations.
      Thomas raised some excellent points, but at this point, I think the tax dollars are better spent on the living.

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    12. peter mackenzie

      Transport Researcher

      In reply to David Stein

      David, the cost-benefit question is interesting in $ terms. The willingness-to-pay cost of the 240 lives of those on MH370 would be around $1.6 billion. Not sure what the total insurance costs of the loss of plane and lives would be- but would imagine to be less than half of the w-t-p costs.

      But in any case, if we could turn back the clock, we would expect to spend a whole lot more than $60m to avert such a disaster, and still call that good spending.

      But of course it's too late to do that.

      So what we should spend then to try and ascertain what happened and potentially avoid a repeat of MH370 is an interesting question. (and of course, who's money should be spent is part of that question).

      The billion $ plus question is whether this has been a one-off, or has it been some technical problem that happens after so many hours of flight perhaps, and is likely to repeat.

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    13. Peter Anderson-Stewart
      Peter Anderson-Stewart is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Medical scientist

      In reply to David Stein

      "Rather sophomoric Peter."

      Why thank you, success at last, mater would be proud ...

      I've always tried to perform the sainted Tom Lehrer's long running experiment to prolong adolescence beyond all previous limits ...

      However, as you are the one who raise the point of taxes, you have most certainly missed the point regarding what taxes (or levies or whatever the IPA/LNP wishes to semantically refer to them as).

      I'm disinclined to spell it out for you, so we'll move to the term search and rescue.

      It is a term commonly used even in instances where rescue is no longer the primary aim.

      Do you think that there are separate organisations that take over once rescue is no longer possible?

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  2. Joseph Ferguson

    Doctoral Candidate in Science Education at Deakin University

    My thinking is that if interpreteting auditory signals from the oceans is so difficult then perhaps those involved in the search should have made it clearer during their announcements (to the media etc.) that this was the case.

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  3. Michael Ashley

    Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

    Erik, nice article, but as I commented earlier on another article about MH370 at The Conversation, I find the latest revelations on the pings to be very unsatisfactory.

    My understanding is that pings were detected continuously over a 2 hour period on April 5. Surely this can't be the result of sounds from "whales" or "tiny shrimp"? Presumably it must be a human signal of some sort. Then the question is: does the signal have the characteristics expected from a black box, or, perhaps from a xtal-controlled…

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      The frequencies were wrong, so it was crassly obvious in the first place that these sounds were not from the black boxes, whose frequencies do not change. This was obviously a case of diversionary tactics.

      It is understandable that a lecturer in oceanography would be all gung-ho for exploring deeper and deeper in the ocean, but if there really is a desire to know what happened to that aircraft, which I do not believe, that is not the way to find it out.

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    2. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Thomas, yes it looks like the pinger frequencies are 37.5 +/- 1 kHz. Presumably the frequency stays within the stated accuracy independent of battery voltage and pressure.

      So the reported 33.1 kHz signals would appear not to be from a black box.

      So why was it claimed with such confidence that the signals were from a black box?

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Why? As more misdirection, of course.

      Everybody with any knowledge of electronics knows that the black-box frequencies wouldn't drift substantially as the batteries ran down, and that they couldn't change substantially due to transmission of the sounds through different layers of water.

      That was obvious to me as soon as I heard the reports of those pseudo-pings.

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    4. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Well, depending on the design of the oscillator, it is possible to have the frequency dependent on voltage. However, I suspect in this case that the vibration frequency is set by a mechanical element, which will either vibrate at its designed frequency, or not at all. Maybe the pressure at 4km depth could affect it.

      Angus Houston was quoted on April 8 as saying that a level of 33.2 kHz was ‘quite credible’ according to world wide experience.

      But even if 33.2 kHz was possible, the stability of the frequency, and of the inter-pulse period, and possible Doppler-shifting of these, give plenty of clues as to where the signal is coming from.

      Given that the Government is allocating $90 million for the search, I think it is reasonable that we see some transparency about the operation. On the face of it, the search hasn't looked particularly competent so far.

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    5. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Since the frequency is set for the very purpose of recognition, obviously it must be stabilized. How could the pressure affect it? There won't be a special pressure sensor on the outside of the black box for that purpose! And if the pressure and water have got into the black box, that's obviously the end of all signalling.

      How can an oscillator at 37 kHz suddenly start vibrating at 33 kHz? That's nonsense. That is a rather large difference.

      Obviously there is no Doppler shifting, because the black box is stationary by now, supposedly at the bottom of the sea. I have no idea why you, a professor of (astro)physics, should say "the stability of the frequency, and of the inter-pulse period, and possible Doppler-shifting of these, give plenty of clues as to where the signal is coming from".

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    6. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Well, as an example, the TPL was moving relative to sea floor when it made the detections, so that would cause a doppler shift of signals from a black box. So, if the observed frequency varied with the speed of the TPL, this would likely rule out the TPL itself as the source of the signals.

      Electrical interference, if derived from a crystal-controlled oscillator, will be far more stable that a mechanical oscillator such as a black box pinger. So, e.g., if the observed pings over a 2 hour interval…

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    7. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      Well, a cursory internet search gives me this URL provided by a manufacturer of black-box pingers:

      http://www.benthos.com/_doc/main/Brochures_Datasheets/elp362D__001815__rev_L.pdf

      which says: "The printed circuit board assembly generates all the necessary logic functions to produce a pulse with the desired characteristics. The pulse is then transformed from a CMOS level square wave to a much larger 37.5 kHz sinusoidal pulse by a transformer. The output of the transformer drives the urethane-encapsulated…

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    8. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Well spotted! The datasheets that I found didn't have that much detail, although the one you found is still fairly vague. Mechanically resonant ultrasonic transducers do exist, and I assumed that given the very wide tolerance on the 37.5 kHz frequency that a black box pinger might use one of those. What I would be interested to know is: what is the actual frequency reference in the pinger, and is it used to generate both the operating frequency and the inter-pulse gap? If it is a crystal, then an…

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    9. Michael Ashley

      Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      There is an interesting US patent from 1976, US3992692 for a programmable underwater acoustic beacon. Google for it.

      The key points are: (1) the frequency is set to a large extent by the mechanical vibration of an ultrasonic transducer, (2) the transducer is excited by a simple RC oscillator based on what looks like a 555 timing IC, and (3) the interpulse period is set by a separate RC oscillator and a 555.

      555's are to first order independent of supply voltage, but not perfectly.

      If the modern beacons are based on this design (which wouldn't surprise me), then my original post applies: it may well be possible to distinguish between a black box pinger and other electronic interference by looking in detail at the frequency and inter-pulse period stability.

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    10. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      But that was nearly forty years ago.

      Of course, we don't actually know what type of pinger was fitted to MH370. No doubt the manufacturer knows, but they are not deigning to tell us plebs.

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    11. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      I still stick to my point: if the spec is 37.5 kHz plus or minus 1 kHz, then the devices should perform to spec, especially since they are important aeronautical assemblies, and thus I do not accept Angus Houston's assertion without further explanation.

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    12. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      A 555's frequency is set by the chosen configuration of an RC combination attached to its designated pins, ergo, you can set the frequency to whatever you wish within design limits, and then some. If the amount of resistance or capacitance alters then wild swings in frequency may be observed. It is not difficult to 'pull' a crystal away from its intended frequency using either more or less in-circuit capacitance/inductance, and if the circuit in a black box is damaged in any way then it's quite possible…

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    13. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Yes but, come on, these black-box devices are built to be very strong and to resist very high pressures without deviating from specification. I don't see any clear reason being suggested as to why this one didn't work.

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  4. Account Deleted

    logged in via LinkedIn

    The pings were erroneous, and the presumed location of the plane, based on a novel and unverified analysis of satellite data by a commercial operator, may well also have been wrong. Certainly, unless those in charge of the plane were insane or dead, it made no sense to fly for six hours into the middle of the Indian Ocean. The alternative, that it was taken for a purpose (even if that purpose was not achieved) surely deserves a little more consideration.

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Account Deleted

      Precisely. I personally focus upon the human factors. There is no imaginable motivation for someone in charge of that aircraft to fly it south to that remote general location. Why would he want the plane to disappear? Moreover, if someone perversely did want to fly it off to the middle of nowhere where it would never be found, he wouldn't have flown it there. He would have kept somewhat more to starboard, so that, when the aircraft finally ran out of fuel, it would wind up a couple of thousand kilometers to the west of the current search zone. That would have been far more remote and inaccessible because it is out of range for air search from Western Australia. About latitude 88E would be the most inaccessible place to head for.

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    2. Account Deleted

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Agreed. If the senior pilot, an acknowledged aviation nut, was involved, he surely would have had a far more sophisticated plan than just flying into nowhere. I think he, at least, must have been dead or removed from the picture.

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    1. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I do wish people would eschew silly feminist-activist statements of this sort. It is a long-established convention in the English language that the masculine includes the feminine (unless that would make nonsense of the sentence in question). What are you asking us to say? "Unpersoned" and "person-made"? Take that foolishness to some less august forum than The Conversation, please!

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin

      The word 'man; comes from old English, when it mean 'a human'. They used the prefix 'wer' for male and 'wyf' for female (hence 'wife'). It is from this root that the word 'mankind' etc is derived, not to refer specifically to the male gender, but to refer to all humans (note that 'human' is also an extension of 'man').

      It was only later that the 'wer' was dropped from the male gender and 'wyf' changed to 'wo' to denote females.

      You are correct - many people do believe that 'mankind' or 'manned' excludes women - but it was never intended to be the case. In its correct usage, 'manned' just refers to something inhabited or crewed by humans.

      But times and language do change, and over the past few decades - for that is all that it has been - 'manned' has become gender specific; in the minds of some that is. Whether you agree or not is as much personal and cultural as it is widely accepted.

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    3. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      It's nothing to do with grammar. It's to do with semantics - with the meaning of words. The "many people" you speak of are wrong about the correct English usage, so their mistaken opinions may be discounted.

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    4. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      Whether people 'wrongly' misunderstand 'man' to mean only men or not is irrelevant. If many people misunderstand 'man' to mean only men and one meant to include women one has failed to communicate one's meaning. Since the whole point of language is to communicate one needs to use words that are understood as one intends them, rather than as one believes they should be understood.

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    5. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Yes, we all know the historical use of 'man' to include women. We also all know, incidentally, how deeply women were discriminated against in those times.

      This statement would be more accurately expressed as: 'In its historical usage, 'manned' just referred to . . .'. But it is no longer accurate to state that this is the 'correct' use of 'manned'. Since a significant number of competent English users understand 'manned' to mean only women that use should be accepted as standard English.

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    6. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Nobody is really misunderstanding the conventional usage of "man", as in "mankind" for example. They are just trying to make trouble in completely unrelated discussions - as you did with your original post. This thread, this webpage, is about MH370, not tired old pro-feminist nonsense of the 1970s.

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    7. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      "....Yes, we all know the historical use of 'man' to include women...."

      Apparently you don't Gavin. As I explained to you, the word 'man' meant human - not just the male gender.

      ".... But it is no longer accurate to state that this is the 'correct' use of 'manned'. ...."

      Yes, yes it is. Try a dictionary if you don't believe me.

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    8. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Of course it depends on what dictionary one consults. Here are the first 3 meanings of 'man' given by the British Dictionary:

      1. an adult male human being, as distinguished from a woman
      2. (modifier) male; masculine: a man child
      3. archaic a human being regardless of sex or age, considered as a representative of mankind; a person.

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    9. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Since we are discussing the word "manned" (refer to your original post), how about you go back and check your dictionary again Gavin. Anyone will do.

      Find anything interesting?

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    10. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      'verb (used with object), manned, manning.
      '21. to furnish with men, as for service or defense.
      '22. to take one's place for service, as at a gun or post: to man the ramparts.
      '23. to strengthen, fortify, or brace; steel: to man oneself for the dangers ahead.
      '24. Falconry. to accustom (a hawk) to the presence of men.'

      http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/manned?s=t

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    11. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin, the word 'manned' in any dictionary (nice cherry picking by the way) means 'crewed by humans'. And to suggest that 'manned' is in any way sexist or gender specific is to fundamentally misunderstand the language.

      The stem 'man' always has referred to 'huMAN', in exactly the same way as it does in the word 'MANual' (operated by humans) or 'MANnequin' (a 3D representation of human form). Or do you think those words are sexist too? You must have a real problem with menstruation then - as it starts with the stem 'men'.

      You're at a university apparently, go and talk to someone who understands language. You don't.

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    12. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I agree with your general contention, Mike, but you are slipping with "manual", which comes from the Latin word "manus", meaning "hand". Manual means hand-operated, not human-operated.

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    13. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Thomas Goodey

      I agree with you Thomas. Of course, Latin was also the origin of many old English words- 'man' being one of them.

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    14. Thomas Goodey

      Researcher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      With respect, the reference material doesn't seem to agree with you. For example, see the very scholarly Wikipedia entry for "man (word)". In fact the origin is clearly "manu" in proto-Sanskrit, aka proto-Indo-European, aka the original Aryan language, but not via Latin.

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    15. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I suppose you also wish that no female is ever diagnosed as being manic, even when it's manifest..err..obvious that they are. And what should all the female manicurists be made to call themselves I wonder? How they'd ever manage..err..'hand'le being called something else boggles the m_ind'efinably.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to robert roeder

      Damn Robert! There goes my theory - with proof of course - that all the passengers were alien robots that had been marooned on Earth. And they stole the plane and modified it in flight in order to journey back to their home on the far side of the galaxy through a wormhole that just opened up on the far side of Jupiter.

      Those youtube videos have convinced me!

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  5. Daniel Verberne

    logged in via Facebook

    Really liked reading this piece - Erik, I simply did not realise just how inaccessible much of the deep ocean is.

    I'm holding out hope that maybe in the future we were develop a technology capable of "seeing under the waves" far better than any current sonar.

    However, I think the better bet is for the commercial aviation industry to knuckle-down and find much better ways of tracking air craft.

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    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Daniel Verberne

      Anyone at all -- not just those in the commercial aviation industry -- could invent better methods to track aircraft. It's quite possible that someone who has never even flown in an aircraft and has no intention ever to do so will be the person who provides a simple solution. The commercial aviation industry has had plenty of time now to iron out such things but they're still found wanting.

      Given it was said that there was so much at steak..err..stake at the time, it was a butcher's daughter, *Beatrice…

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  6. John Fraser

    logged in via email @iinet.net.au

    <

    If a moron hops up in the Australian parliament and says "new and credible information" ...... wouldn't you think that he was pointing at some particular area.

    Not half the bloody Indian Ocean.

    Congratulations Abbott you have now shown the world that you are a complete moron.

    No wonder he now gets the dead fish Truss to speak for him on the subject.

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  7. Ken Blackman

    activist

    If there's any chance that the plane has a new kind of defect, then spend the huge search $$$ on putting it through the total wringer.
    Just get off this ocean-scouring political exercise, driven totally by the confected need to assuage families, and posturing for 'diplomatic correctness'.
    At least the political psychology school will be having a field day.

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  8. Susan Geason

    Writer

    No, it's time to call off the search and put the money into education or health.

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  9. Ted O'Brien.

    Farmer.

    In October 1966, during a severe drought, we mustered cattle for sale. About an eight or ten hour exercise.

    As I caught the horses before breakfast I could hear thunder in the south west.

    As we headed out and the sun rose it was another cloudless, desert sky, with the usual haze above the horizon. But we could still hear thunder in the SW, where, with the horizon a good 30 to 40 km away, the sight distance was substantial.

    By about 9 am a windswept looking cloud started to come over the horizon, and at about 11:30 am we were thoroughly drenched by a thunderstorm.

    That early morning thunder must have been coming from 150 to 200 km away. There must have been peculiar atmospheric conditions at the time which caused the sound to be audible so far away.

    I had never seen this phenomenon before, and I never saw it again.

    I have wondered if such conditions could occur under the sea, and if the "ping" detected could have been from much further away than was believed possible.

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