A stunningly complex phenomenon is making it almost impossible to locate the downed Malaysia Air flight
On Wednesday, a piece of what appears to be a section of a Boeing 777 washed ashore on the small island of La Reunion, and now authorities are investigating whether this could be the very first piece of debris ever discovered from the alleged plain crash of last year's Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The island is about 600 miles east of Madagascar, shown below:
The currents in the Indian Ocean are mainly driven by its winter and summer monsoon seasons.
The Indian Ocean straddles the equator: To the north, strong winds blow north-east between October and April, but they change direction to south-west from May to the following October. The south has milder wind patterns.
The winds generates two large circular rotating currents, called gyres, in the northern Indian Ocean and one in the south. Here they are:
The tricky thing about the Indian ocean's northern gyres is that they are one of the few in the world that change direction over the course of the year. In the summer, the gyres flow clockwise but in the winter they reverse direction and flow counterclockwise. This change in direction extends down to the equator.The southern gyre does not change direction however, and since the search site is near the equator, it's incredibly difficult to determine where the wreckage may have been swept off to.
Oceanographers at the University of Western Australia calculated a possible path shown below, which supports the notion that this piece of plane wreckage could have made it as far west as the island of La Reunion: