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Data Holidays: Sonar Contacts, Technological Developments in the Search for MH370

Sat, September 7, 1:00 to 2:30pm, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Floor: Four, Oakley


The Southern hemisphere has immense oceanic areas compared to the Northern hemisphere. As part of an International Monitoring System (IMS) the hydroacoustic network HO1 array off Cape Leuwin, Western Australia is of particular significance in covering this area: collecting sonic signatures from whale vocalizations; to industrial drilling or shipping noise; to ice-calving, earthquakes and explosions.

But on 8 March 2014, a Boeing 777 aircraft operating as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was lost, presumed crashed in this area of the Indian Ocean. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) assumed responsibility for coordinating an extraordinary water search for this aircraft. Using performance information, satellite meta-data communication and debris drift studies, they located an area to conduct an underwater survey. But the types of data and the scientific methods used for its analysis, were never intended to be used to locate an aircraft and this resulted in the development of new cloud-based architectures and algorithms for automatic detection, extraction and discrimination in a coordinated display of ocean logistics—120,000 square kilometres—as the largest high resolution underwater sonar search of its kind.

Data Holidays was a term used during the search for ‘gaps’ in sonar information but I use it here as an STS concept. Although the MH370 wreckage is yet to be located, I trace lines of enquiry from a history of human disorientation (shipwrecks, oil accidents, lost aircraft) and what they teach us about the Ocean. How this faulty interrogation transforms knowledge of terrain and eco-systems in innovative ways.


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