What does our ocean modeling tell us about the fate of flight MH370?

The flaperon discovered on   Reunion Island. Image: The Independent.

The flaperon discovered on La Reunion. Image: The Independent.co.uk

By Simon Torok

The tragic mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has again attracted international media attention, with the discovery of part of a Boeing 777 wing, known as a flaperon, on La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The flaperon is thought to be associated with the aircraft that is believed to have disappeared in the south-east Indian Ocean.

You may remember we were involved in the initial search of MH370 over a year ago, providing advice to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on the potential drift of buoyant items in the ocean from the suspected crash area.

With the discovery of the 777 flaperon on La Réunion, we have again been called on for our expert ocean modelling advice. And it appears our original predictions may have been on the money.

The most recent drift modelling indicates that the overall drift of most debris in the months to July 2015 is likely to have been north and then west away from the accident site, indeed as far west as La Réunion. The finding of a flaperon on La Réunion does therefore match up with the calculations that place the crash site in the present area being searched by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).


Following our contribution to the initial search, in November 2014 the ATSB asked us to perform drift modelling based on the revised search area defined in the MH370 – Flight Path Analysis Update report. This modelling indicated that there was a very low probability that any debris from MH370 would have made landfall in the east Indian ocean at that time. Since then, we’ve made further refinements to our drift modelling. Our most recent models have extended the drift area to include the western Indian Ocean. We have also included an approximation of the effect of waves in addition to that of the wind and surface currents.

This figure shows indicative drift from the search area as at 30 July 2015 produced from our latest modelling:


Blue, black and red dots simulate items blown by wind (in addition to being carried by ocean currents and waves) at 1.2, 1.5 and 1.8 per cent of the wind velocity. The items originated along the black arc on 8 March 2014, representing the current search area. White arrows are the winds for the day shown. Magenta symbols are positions of real drifting buoys (with sea-anchors at 12m) on the day, which have been used to assess the errors of the ocean current component of the total drift velocity.

Here is an animation of the drift modelling from March 2014 to the end of July 2015:

The movement of the items is calculated from the combined influence of ocean currents, winds and waves. Currents and winds are estimated by the Bureau of Meteorology’s operational ocean and weather forecasting systems, while the Stokes drift due to ocean waves is estimated from the NOAA Wavewatch III model.

Our chief oceanographer working on the search, Dr David Griffin, concluded that if the flaperon drifted with an effective leeway factor (that is, the effect of wind) of about 1.5%, then its arrival at La Réunion could mean it originated from the present MH370 search area, taking the errors of the ocean, wind and wave models into account – as shown by this Google Earth animation (download link, Google Earth required).

Interestingly, the modelling can also be done in reverse. This Google Earth animation (download link, Google Earth required) shows that the March 2014 locations of drifting items that were within 300km of La Réunion in July 2015 are spread from the north east Indian Ocean to the southern Indian Ocean, including a band of locations centred on the present sea floor search area.

However, David also concluded that because of the turbulent nature of the ocean, and the uncertainties of the modelling, it is impossible to use the La Réunion finding to refine or shift the search area.

For media enquiries regarding CSIRO’s involvement, contact Simon Torok on simon.torok@csiro.au or 0409 844 302.

For more information on our ocean modelling and forecasting, see Bluelink, a collaboration between us, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Royal Australian Navy.


We have not been involved in the underwater search in the southern Indian Ocean that commenced after MH370 went missing – any media enquiries about the search should be directed to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSBInfo@atsb.gov.au or 1800 020 616).

How we helped reinvent the wheel

The Shelby GT530R features the world’s first mass-produced carbon fiber wheels. Ford is the first major automaker to offer carbon fiber wheels as standard equipment.

The Shelby GT530R features the world’s first mass-produced carbon fibre wheels. Ford is the first major automaker to offer carbon fibre wheels as standard equipment.

By Crystal Ladiges

The Shelby Mustang has been held up as high performance marvel by sports car-enthusiasts for generations. Appearing as fabled-creature Eleanor, she’s best known for stealing the show (and Nicolas Cage’s heart) in the action flick Gone in 60 Seconds.

Now, details of the all-new 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R have been released. And it has been touted as the most track-ready road-going production Mustang ever.

That the new Shelby will be rocket ship-fast should come as no surprise, but what is news to many is that it’s an Aussie innovation that will make this pony gallop!

Ford has announced the GT350R will roll out the world’s first mass-produced carbon fibre wheels.  Not only do these wheels look fast, carbon fibre wheels are nearly half the weight of an equivalent made out of aluminium (eight kilograms versus 15 kilograms) and as a result, a car’s handling, acceleration and chassis performance see serious benefits.

Up until now, these high-performance wheels have only been available as an after-market product or in the rarefied world of supercars. This is the first time they will be included part of a car’s standard kit.

And the best part is, this high-tech innovation has been developed right here, by Geelong-based manufacturer Carbon Revolution.

Carbon Revolution is a leading manufacturer in carbon-fibre wheels, however when approached with this challenge, they knew significant innovation would be needed to meet Ford’s particular requirements.

The wheels would have to be incredibly strong, in order to withstand the likes of kerb strikes, potholes and everyday bad driving, as well as wear and tear from weather, rain and temperature changes.

That’s why they approached our CSIRO Services team to help put the wheels through their paces. Using our accelerated weathering equipment, we simulated conditions equivalent to extended exposure to the elements. We were able to show that the high-tech wheels could stand the test of time.

Because many owners will also take their GT350R around the track, the wheels also had to be designed to withstand some serious heat. After all, have you ever seen the glow from the brakes after Winterbottom hits the anchors flying into a hairpin corner?

To address this, Carbon Revolution developed a heat-shielding method that is literally out of this world – similar to that used on the engine turbines of space shuttles. However, they needed to assess how effective this would be for when applied to a road vehicle.

Drawing on our expertise in fire safety, our engineers worked with the company to thermally model the conditions the brakes and the wheels would experience in race conditions. The team then repurposed facilities used for bushfire testing to expose Carbon Revolution’s wheels to a series of high heat load assessments. The tests showed that the wheels were able to withstand the high brake temperatures, without degrading the carbon fibre.

Not only is Ford’s announcement a big plus for car enthusiasts, it’s a huge win for local industry – highlighting Australia’s important role in supplying the global auto market.

This will continue thanks in part to Carbon Revolution’s $24m purpose-built manufacturing facility that will create over 100 new jobs for the Geelong region.  When complete, this facility will have capacity for commercial scale production of 50,000 carbon fibre wheels a year.

Find out more about the services we offer for business.

Pre-pear yourself: have we ended the fruitless search for hangover prevention?

Pears: the low hanging fruit of hangover prevention?

Pears: the low hanging fruit of hangover prevention?

A tall glass of milk to line the stomach. Bouts of water between drinks. Pre-loading with carbs. Everyone, it seems, has their own tried and true method for preventing hangovers (how often they actually work is a different story altogether). But sure-fire ways of sidestepping the dreaded headaches, nausea and general discombobulation that can follow drinking sessions are rarely scientifically studied, instead living in the realms of onions-in-your-socks-to-prevent-colds-type remedies.

Yes, the search for a miracle prevention of hangovers has been fruitless – until now.

The pears have it

We’ve been researching pears with Horticulture Innovation Australia to discover the hidden benefits of the humble backyard fruit – beyond being cheaper than apples.

As well as finding that pears can lower cholesterol, relieve constipation and have anti-inflammatory effects, it also appears they can ward off hangovers AND lower blood alcohol levels.

In what could be one of the greatest ‘stumbled upon’ scientific findings since we discovered fast WiFi, this secret pear power has the potential to stimulate Friday afternoon pear purchases world-wide.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves…

hangover cat

We spoke to Professor Manny Noakes, our lead researcher on the project, to get the full slice on pears.

Are there any types of pears that work better than other? And what’s the best way to consume them?
At present, studies have only investigated the Korean (or Asian) pear, which has long been used as a traditional remedy for alcohol hangover.  A number of compositional differences have been noted between the Korean pear and Western pear varieties, so further studies are needed to confirm these findings to determine whether these results could be replicated using other pear varieties.  So far the effect has been seen from consuming 220ml Korean pear juice, although consumption of whole pears may produce a similar effect.

How exactly do the pears prevent hangovers – how did we find this out?
There may be several ways by which pears could prevent hangovers. Our review has uncovered both animal and human studies trying to answer this question. It appears that the factors in Korean pears act on the key enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) to speed up alcohol metabolism and elimination or inhibition of alcohol absorption. In particular, reductions were seen in blood acetaldehyde levels, the toxic metabolic thought to be responsible for the hangover symptoms, with pear juice consumption.  

Headshot of Manny Noakes

Our health guru, Professor Manny Noakes.

What hangover symptoms can pears prevent?
Overall hangover severity, as measured by a 14 item hangover symptom scale, was significantly reduced in the Korean pear group compared to those having a placebo drink, with the most pronounced effect seen on the specific symptom of ‘trouble concentrating’.

Can I pear-binge after drinking to cure my hangover?
NO. The effect was only demonstrated if pears were consumed before alcohol consumption. There is no evidence that you can consume pairs after drinking and avoid a hangover.
And remember, the very best way to not get a hangover is to not drink in the first place.

Manny also warns this is only a preliminary scoping study, with the results yet to be finalised. Ultimately, her team hope to deliver a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on pears, pear components and relevant health measures. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Still thirsty for more? Here’s some other ways we’re helping Australians with their diet and health.

The ingredients (and our vision) for a smart society

CSIRO staff member at Nissan's plant in Melbourne

When I say ‘science’ you say ‘beaker’. When I say ‘science’ you say ‘white lab coats’. When I say ‘science’ you say ‘microscopes’. Why is it so few people say ‘technology’ and ‘innovation’ and ‘collaboration’?

Science is the essential building block for a smart society and it’s got much, much more to offer than the high-school science stereotype that plagues us.

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where we’re headed, about our science masterplan for the next five years, and for us, science and innovation are inextricably linked.

But there are some challenges around Australia’s ability to be innovative. Currently Australia ranks 81st in world rankings for innovation efficiency. This is the bang for our buck we get when we transform innovation investment into results. If Australia ranked 81st in the world in a sport, ANY sport, we’d be outraged. Even New Zealand is ahead of us in this game.

Australia needs to pick up the game on ‘breakthrough innovation’ by creating new products and services – and potentially whole industries. We want to be at the centre of this, as the linchpin between business, government and the community.

And we’ve identified ways in which we’ll succeed in this new vision:


We already have 5,000 of the best and brightest minds in Australia. The great ideas are out there, we just need to find them. This year we crowd-sourced ideas from our staff, customers and thought leaders to set the direction for our 2015-2020 strategy.


Innovation is a team sport. We want to increase our connection with universities and other research organisations. We want more student engagement, to bring dynamism and vibrancy to our work culture.


True disruption comes with risk-taking and agility. We’ve set up a targeted fund for new commercial venture ideas from our people. This intensive accelerator program will involve external entrepreneurs, investors and some of our large industry customers.


We always have to start the conversation by asking the questions – who is the customer, what value do they need, and are we delivering? Our science should always deliver real impact.

Yes, real impact – the kind that makes your life better in some tangible way. This is not something new to us; we are well positioned to be Australia’s innovation catalyst. We are, after all, Australia’s largest patent holder and we’ve got 90 years of science impact under our belt.

Graphic showing 90years of CSIRO innovation

Here’s just a few examples of how our innovation is already all around you:

1. The smart tech that’s keeping you snug at work.

Our OptiCOOL intelligent control technology uses lots of inputs, like weather, energy pricing and feedback from occupants, to adjust a building’s air-conditioning system and reduce energy consumption. The results? Up to 30 per cent reduction in energy use in 15 million square feet of floor space in Australia. That could include your desk at work.

2. The long-wear contact lenses you put in this morning.

Contact lenses were a game-changer last century, but they were rigid and not for night-time use. In 1991 we spearheaded an international collaboration that looked at using smarter materials to create a product that customers had been asking for. Ten years later and silicone hydrogen soft contact lenses made it onto the market and were an instant success. You’re welcome, eyeballs.

3. The fast WiFi you’re using on your phone or laptop or tablet.

There was life before WiFi? Well, not really. There was something, but it was a bit sad and lonely. Our astronomers set out to solve a ‘reverberation challenge’ to help them piece together the waves from black holes and from that wireless LAN was born. WiFi is now a fundamental part of our modern lives. Just consider how many times you’ve used it this last week.

4. The cotton on your shoulders, or legs, or feet.

Agriculture is a major player in the Australian economy but we’re always looking for efficiencies – less pesticides, better water use, higher yields. Since 1984 we’ve been doing just that, and now Australian cotton has the highest yields in the world, and more than 95 per cent of it is grown from our varieties.

5. The cereal you’re eating that contains more fibre than any other.

If you’re not a BARLEYmax fan, you should be. Our high fibre whole grain has two times the dietary fibre and four times the resistant starch of a regular grain. This superfood has the potential for lowering rates of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

To read more about our new five-year strategy, and to find out how you can partner with us, head to our website.

Super soakers: speedy crystal sponges to mop up industrial waste


The tiny crystal sponges up close. They are much bigger on the inside and the ideal waste filters.

By Emily Lehmann

Environmental management is a valuable business. As well as being critical for protecting our waterways, soil and health, it supports a rapidly growing industry, contributing billions of dollars to Australia’s GDP each year.

That’s why we’re coming up with better, more efficient tools to add value to the industry.

One promising new technology for cleaning up industrial waste and soil takes advantage of tiny sponge-like crystals made of metal organic frameworks (or MOFs). These super soakers make ideal waste filters, efficiently trapping large amounts of contaminants found in industrial wastewater and soil.

The crystals are deceptively small. Believe it or not, just one gram has the internal storage capacity of an entire football oval – that’s 7,000 square metres! Until now, these crystals have been challenging to manufacture and bring to market because of their lengthy and costly production time.

The good news for manufacturers is that we’ve come up with a way to grow the crystals quickly and cheaply for around 30 per cent of the cost. Rather than taking days, our method makes MOF crystals in as little as 15 minutes, making them viable to manufacture for the first time.


CSIRO’s Paolo Falcaro – one of the clever brains behind the new method.

Our method has been used to create a specific type of MOF crystal based on zinc oxides, but we believe it could be applied to different types of MOFs in areas as diverse as energy and pharmaceuticals. These crystal gems could offer industry an innovative solution for turning tonnes of wastewater into safe, clean and usable resources.

We’re now looking to partner with manufacturers to develop these crystal sponges into a saleable product using our new process.

Find out how we’ve been applying these clever MOF crystals to other industries, including potential opportunities for your business. 

The hunt for ET will boost Australian astronomy

The 64-metre Parkes Radio telescope will be instrumental in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. CSIRO/David McClenaghan, CC BY

The 64-metre Parkes Radio telescope will be instrumental in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. CSIRO/David McClenaghan, CC BY

Lewis Ball, CSIRO

It’s already an exciting time for Australia in the field of astronomy and space science. But we’ve just received an astronomical boost with the announcement of CSIRO’s role with the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s (BPF) US$100 million dollar search for extraterrestrial intelligence, called Breakthrough Listen.

CSIRO has signed a multi-million dollar agreement to use its 64 metre Parkes radio telescope in the quest to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Breakthrough Listen will be allocated a quarter of the science time available on the Parkes telescope from October 2016 for a period five years, on a full cost recovery basis.

The Parkes observations will be part of a larger set of initiatives to search for life in the universe. The ET hunters will also use time on the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia, operated by the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and a telescope at the University of California’s Lick Observatory.

Why Parkes?

CSIRO has the only capability for radio astronomy in the southern hemisphere that can deliver the scientific goals for the new initiative. The Parkes Radio Telescope is essential for the scientific integrity of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). It is ideally situated for a search such as this. The most interesting and richest parts of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, pass directly overhead. If we are going to detect intelligent life elsewhere, it is most likely going to be found in that part of the galaxy towards the centre of the Milky Way.

The Milky Way as seeing from the south hemisphere in the winter in a 180 degrees view. The bulge towards the center of our galaxy is directly above the head of the observer. Flickr/Luis Argerich, CC BY-NC

The Parkes Radio Telescope is also one of the world’s premier big dishes and has outstanding ability to detect weak signals that a search like this requires. It has always been at the forefront of discovery, from receiving video footage of the first Moon walk on 20 July 1969 (which was dramatised in the movie The Dish), to tracking NASA’s Curiosity rover during its descent onto Mars in 2012, to now once again searching for intelligent life.

It has also played a leading role in the detection and study of pulsars, small dense stars that can spin hundreds of times a second, the recent discovery of enigmatic (but boringly named) fast radio bursts, or FRBs, and in the search for gravitational waves.

Parkes also played a leading role in previous SETI searches. In 1995 the California-based SETI Institute used the telescope for six months for its Project Phoenix search. The Parkes telescope provided the critical capability to search the southern sky that could not be accessed using telescopes in the northern hemisphere.

The latest initiative is being led by a number of the world’s most eminent astrophysicists and astronomers. Professor Matthew Bailes, ARC Laureate Fellow at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, will be the Australian lead of the SETI observing team using the Parkes telescope.

Knock-on benefits

The program will nicely complement the existing scientific uses of the Parkes telescope. Although it will take up a quarter of Parkes time, it will benefit the research undertaken during the other three-quarters of the time the telescope is in operation. It will enable even greater scientific capability to be provided to a wide range of astronomy research through both the financial support and through the provision of new data processing and analysis systems and techniques. Incredible advances in computing technology make it possible for this new search to scan much greater swaths of the radio spectrum than has ever before been explored.

Rather than trying to guess where on the radio dial astronomers might receive a signal, they can now search an entire region of the radio spectrum in a single observation. The dramatic increase in data processing capability has also meant that astronomers can analyse telescope data in new ways, searching for many different types of artificial signals. CSIRO is thrilled to be part of this global initiative which takes advantage of the significant advances that have been made in computation and signal processing since the search for extraterrestrial life began. The probability of detecting intelligent life is small but it is much greater today than ever before.

To be the first to discover intelligent life would be a phenomenal achievement not only for the scientific community but for all humankind.The Conversation

Lewis Ball is Director, Astronomy and Space Science at CSIRO.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A tale of three mosquitoes: how a warming world could spread disease

Will climate change cause mosquito-borne diseases to spread? Image: Steve Doggett

Will climate change cause mosquito-borne diseases to spread? Image: Steve Doggett

David Yeates, CSIRO

Changing wildlife: this article is part of a series looking at how key species such as bees, insects and fish respond to environmental change, and what this means for the rest of the planet.

As the world warms, animals and plants will shift their ranges to keep pace with their favoured climate. While the changing distributions of species can tell us how climate change is affecting the natural world, it may also have a direct impact on us.

One good example is the disease carried by insects.

Those small, familiar flies called mosquitoes are responsible for much human suffering around the globe because of their ability to transmit diseases.

Mosquitoes transmit a number of viruses, such as Dengue, Ross River Virus, Murray Valley Encephalitis Virus and the local variant of the West Nile Virus known as Kunjin.

Could climate change cause these diseases to spread? While this an extremely important health question, the answer is far from simple.

Complicated life cycle

The life cycle of mosquitoes and its viral parasites is particularly complicated.

Only adult females consume blood, and the immature stages (larvae) live in fresh or brackish water, filtering out small organic particles.

The virus undergoes certain parts of its lifecycle inside particular mosquito organs, but also requires other organs in the vertebrate host to complete its life cycle. And to get into a vertebrate, such as us, it relies on a hungry blood-sucking insect.

These viruses always have other hosts besides humans, which may include native and domestic animals. The pathway that these viruses take to infect humans is often via our domestic animals, which are also bitten by the same mosquitoes that feed on us.

In addition, rates of virus transmission to humans is also affected by the human built environment, and also human behaviour.

Because mosquitoes breed in water, changes in rainfall patterns are likely to change the distribution and abundance of mosquitoes, and therefore could affect disease transmission.

The larvae of Aedes notoscriptus, which carries the Barmah Forest and Ross River viruses. Image: Stephen Doggett

Australian climate is characterised by its variability, however we have experienced a general trend towards increased spring and summer monsoonal rain across northern Australia, and decreased late autumn and winter rainfall in the south.

Flooding rains

Kunjin virus is mainly transmitted by a small mosquito called Culex annulirostris, the common banded mosquito, in Australia. We are lucky because human infection rarely causes disease, even though Kunjin and the common-banded mosquito are widespread in Australia.

Kunjin’s close relative, the US strain of West Nile Virus is much more virulent, causing more human disease. These viruses are well known for their ability to mutate quickly, so they are always keeping medical authorities on their toes.

Higher than average rainfall and flooding in eastern Australia in the second half of 2010 and 2011 provided ideal conditions for breeding common banded mosquitoes, and in 2011 a dangerous strain of Kunjin appeared that caused acute encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in horses. This disease has only been detected in one human, however this mosquito feeds on both humans and horses.

This new virulent strain of Kunjin also appeared in new areas east of the Great Dividing Range, suggesting other unknown changes in transmission.

As temperatures increase, mosquito activity will begin earlier in the season and reach higher levels of abundance sooner, and maintain higher populations longer. These factors will all probably tend to increase the rate of transmission of Kunjin to both humans and animals.

Drying out

While flooding may have helped spread Kunjin, drought may have helped another mosquito-borne virus.

It would be simple to assume that drought would reduce mosquito populations by reducing the larval habitat (water), and thereby reduce the incidence of mosquito-borne disease in Australia.

However, this is not necessarily the case. Another Australian mosquito, Aedes notoscriptus, the striped mosquito, is responsible for transmitting Ross River and Barmah Forest Virus in Australia.

Mosquitoes will breed wherever there is standing water. Image: Suzanne Phillips/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The striped mosquito is unusual in comparison to its cousins because it breeds in small containers of water, such as tree holes in natural environments. The main carrier of Dengue in Australia, Aedes aegypti, shares this habit.

These small container habitats abound in Australia’s urban backyard, with water features, water and food bowls for pets, and various toys providing such breeding places.

With the drought, Australians became much more water wise, and installed various water storage devices in their gardens, ranging from buckets left out in a storm, to professionally installed rain tanks. All these are potential habitat for the striped mosquito to breed.

In this case drought has caused an increase in the abundance of a mosquito virus carrier because of a change in human behaviour.

The return of Dengue?

Dengue fever is transmitted in Australia by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. The mosquito is restricted to Queensland, and Dengue fever transmission is restricted to coastal northern Queensland.

Recent modelling predicts that moderate climate change would extend the Dengue risk zone to Brisbane, exposing much larger human populations to risk.

However, before the 1930s, Dengue fever transmission was known south almost to Sydney, and Aedes aegypti was known throughout mainland Australia except the deserts.

Both the mosquito, and the disease, have retreated to Queensland since then, and we don’t know why. What is clear is that we don’t really understand what controls the distribution of Aedes aegypti or Dengue in Australia, but given the contraction of the disease in historical time, it is unlikely that a warming climate will produce a simple response in the insect or the disease.

Australian insects will be affected by climate change, but simple predictions based on increasing average temperatures and changing rainfall patterns miss the important effects of complex biological interactions.

In addition, we are only just beginning to use models that are sophisticated enough to consider how insects might evolve under changing climate.

Investing in a deeper understanding of these complex biological webs, and their outcomes for human society, will result in great returns. Our predictions of the future state of Australian plants and animals will become more accurate and we will also improve human health and manage our biodiversity more sustainably into the future.The Conversation

David Yeates is Director of the Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


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