Fascinatingly Mysterious New Flaperon Barnacle Data


Last month Robyn Ironside, the National Aviation Writer at the News Corp Australia Network, published what struck me as an extremely important article in the Daily Telegraph about the work of scientist Patrick De Deckker, who had obtained a sample of a Lepas anatifera barnacle from the French judicial authorities and conducted an analysis to determine the temperature of the water in which the barnacle grew. A snippet:

The same 2.5 centimetre barnacle was used by both French and Australian examiners — but different techniques applied. “For my analysis, I used a laser to create little holes of 20 microns, over the length of the barnacles. In all we did 1500 analyses,” said Professor De Deckker.

Intrigued, I reached out to Ironside, asking if she could tell me more about De Deckker’s work. She very graciously did just that, and shared this extremely interesting nugget, a verbatim quote from De Deckker:

The start of the growth was around 24 degrees (Celsius) and then for quite some time, it ranged between 20 and 18 degrees (Celsius). And then it went up again to around 25 degrees.

This is surprising. The graphic above shows the water temperature in July 2005, which I take to be a rough proxy for the water temperature in March 2014. (I would be extremely grateful if someone could extract granular sea-surface temperature maps for March 2014 to July 2015 from NASA or NOAA databases available online.) It shows that the waters in the seabed search area are about 12-14 degrees Celsius. To find 24 degree water would mean trekking 1000 miles north, above the Tropic of Capricorn.

It has long been known that Lepas anatifera do not grow in waters below about 18 degrees Celsius, and that in order to begin colonizing the flaperon (if it began its journey in the search zone) would have had to first drift northwards and wait for warmer months and warmer latitudes. What’s peculiar is that this particular Lepas would have to have waited a good while beyond that, until the flaperon arrived in water six degrees above its minimum. As I’ve written before, Lepas naupali are common in the open sea and in general are eager colonizers of whatever they can glue their heads to.

Peculiarity number two is that after this period of initial growth the flaperon then found its way into significantly colder water, where most of its total growth took place. What’s weird is that every drift model I’ve ever seen shows currents going through warm water before arriving at Réunion. Where the heck could it have gone to find 18-20 degree water? And how did it then get back to the 25 degree waters of Réunion Island, where it finished its growth?

I’m frankly baffled, and am appealing to readers to ponder historical surface temperature data and drift models to help figure out what kind of journey this plucky Lepas might have found itself on.


494 thoughts on “Fascinatingly Mysterious New Flaperon Barnacle Data”

  1. @Sunken Deal 🙂


    Glad you picked that up and mentioned the discrepancy in how the sequence of temperatures should be, pretty well no one else noticed or bothered to reply 🙂

    Possible next topic:

    Zaharie’s sister, Sakinab, has told Blaine Gibson in a meeting recently that she has listened to the audio recording over and over again and the final ‘Goodnight, Malaysia 370’ was, in her opinion, definitely not spoken by Zaharie.

    Have a listen to the BBC’s (cleaned up?) and edited sequence – is the last person to speak Zaharie, Fariq, … or someone else?


  2. The 2005 data used to check area water is it accurate, given global rise in sea temperature?
    This is interesting http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/forecasts/

    Did the research say how long the barnacles had been on the flap?That must be easily estimated. Do the barnacles drop off in very cold water ? But new barnacles form in the right conditions.

    The flap and other easily torn off parts were ripped off the plane, held in Diego Garcia, thrown into waters and carried on the currents to the find locations.

  3. @Middleton
    the voice sounds l like an older Malay man, probably not the copilot.

    There would be recordings of Zaharie communications, surely they were kept to make comparisons, after the disappearance.

    What if the voice is his but sounds different to his usual voice because he is under duress. That could be evaluated comparing this to other recordings of his dialogue with air traffic, on other flights. Also was he generally signing off with “good night” ?

  4. For starters, I’m assuming that the temperature recorded in shell mineral isotopes is mean physiological temperature, not mean surface temperature. This might mean that a few centimeters difference in submersion or heat gain from insolation or shading as the flaperon’s attitude in the water changed, could affect individual barnacles, and perhaps account for different patterns of growth in individuals from different positions on the flaperon. [Hence a consideration if as DeDekker implies, his French colleague[s] have somewhat different profiles.

    There are many other, hard to quantify, factors in the effective physiological temperature. Seasonal and weather-related patterns of insolation, as storms both mix surface water and reduce insolation. In the end, macro changes in implied water temperatures must, however, strongly constrain sources in drift studies.

    In a previous thread, I suggested that one scenario that at least matches a warm-cold-hot sequence of growth would be crash and attachment well north in a southerly flowing current in the Southern Indian gyre [possible along 7th arc near Broken Ridge], capture by the cold, north-flowing West Australian Current, and recapture and rapid transport west by the South Equitorial Current. Perhaps a low a prior likelihood but it seems possible with the right push from storms.

    Of course, this suggests that the planned replica flaperons will have temperature telemetry, perhaps at different colonized by Lepas, and that the Lepas data will be incorporated before the final decision on placement. Won’t they?

  5. @buyerninety,

    My original question was “I wonder if it would be the usual practice to start the APU whenever an electrical problem occurs, such as loss of the left IDG/bus?”

    According to Gysbreght, it would be the usual practice in case of engine flame-out, but what about a loss of an IDG?

  6. @Jeff Wise

    Maybe this is of help? It’s not the right era but over years time each months temperature charts are shown (push the red buttons):


    It seems to me (looking at those charts) that over a ~16 month periode from march till august next year that when the flaperon was more or less stationairy drifting around the same latitude (say ~20S) for a ~year the shifts in temperature due to changing of the seasons (summer/winter) could explain the drop and rise of temperature as messured in the barnacle.
    Growth starts soon after March in warm waters west of Australia. When drifting mainly west during the next ~year the seasonal drop in water temperature which moves north overtakes the flaperon causing the temporarily drop in temperature messured in the barnacle.
    With the next seasonal shift in water temperature, warm water overtakes the flaperon again causing the higher temperature messured in the barnacle in it’s final stage.

  7. After looking at the temp charts and comparing to ocean currents it seems to me the Flaperon got stuck in a gyro flow near Reunion.

  8. Jeff,
    It’s a great bit of info. Analysis would be on shell growth rate, which by drilling through can be determined. I’m thinking that the Flaperon may have done a full lap of the Indian Ocean Gyre after Barnacle attachment in warm waters. If it was traversing the south part of the IOG in Winter, this may explain the slower growth rates during this period. Lepas don’t necessarily fall off in cooler water once attached. They just can’t breed and continue to colonise. If there’s not enough food they can die off, and also if theirs predation.

  9. Adding; if this is what happened it would prove IMO that the flaperon was at least one whole year in the ocean.
    Then the messurements on the barnacle simply show nicely three seasonal shifts in temperature; summer, winter and summer again.

  10. It’s also significant this messured drop in temperature indicates/proves the flaperon spent time in colder water temperatures that are only possible south of ~20S.
    IMO another strong indication MH370 did not crash north of ~20S.

  11. 25°C is a very comfortable swimming pool for humans.

    That flaperon started from north and went westward on a journey that took much less than a year. It was planted.

  12. Could have traveled north a long way (2000km) submerged, come up with Cyclone Gillian or Cyclone Jack and been colonized, then gone back to deeper water when things calmed down a bit. Traveled across west till it ended up caught some where shallow on the other side for a while, before eventually washing up. Yes I know the thing is naturally buoyant and you would expect it to be on the surface. But it was not and a lot of other things that should have been floating in plain sight were also submerged.

  13. @Annette

    IMO totally submerged would mean it sinks. It can drift mostly submerged (on the surface like that ‘blue panel’..) but not totally submerged. IMO only two options; sink or drift. And when once sunk it won’t come up to drift again.
    Or you know of a proces something like this can happen?

  14. Interesting stuff on barnacle inferred sea temperatures, but for me the most worrying thing is that two different analysis techniques (Mg/Ca ratio by De Deckker, and O16/O18 ratio by the French) on the exact same barnacle give different results for the temperature history.

    This should really be reconciled, and the likely error bars in each measurement understood, prior to attaching too much weight to any flaperon trajectory engineered to match Jeff’s reported temperature trend.

    De Dekker himself claims that his measurements “are consistent with the current search area and the drift modelling done by the CSIRO.” Jeff, can Ironside perhaps find out what trajectory he had in mind in making this comment? Or is he simply saying that the data is too uncertain to contradict the current search zone?

  15. @RetiredF4. An earlier topic. “ELT signals with built in antennas like the type on MH370 are not blocked from the cabin.”
    Thanks. Most probably I have missed out on earlier cabin ELT discussion but in any case this might not have covered why the Flight Attendants Union would home in on this.

    One thing is for the ELT to transmit but from the COSPAS SARSAT site it is not too clear whether either LEOSAR or GEOSAR will make sense of an emergency site which is moving fast, connecting the dots as it were. If the ELT were receiving GPS it would transmit a fast travelling one for the GEOSAR. If not and the LEOSAR was trying to fix its position from satellite Doppler, its principle, the aircraft speed surely would disrupt that.

    However I imagine the Union would have checked all this before raising its question. If not an issue, what we and they are left with, putting aside the likes of battery failure, is the other part of their question, why the ELT was “not triggered”. Since they raise the question, that suggests they would expect the cabin crew if conscious would activate it. Also it would suppose the cabin crew would be aware that the cockpit had gone rogue. With cabin oxygen bottles at their disposal hypoxia would be unlikely before they had an opportunity, if aware. Which would leave prevention, by a hijacking for example, as the cause.

    What is an anomaly in all this is that if a pilot planned to crash the aircraft without the aircraft course being detected via cabin ELT transmission he would surely have taken steps to prevent that, adding a layer of complication.

    While the Union might have something more specific in mind than posing an (as yet) amorphous and unanswerable question I cannot fathom what that might be.

  16. Very interesting article. The deap sea fishing association provides some interesting oceanography on the SIO, and seasonal temperature variations. These variations, as per GeRijn, could halt growth depending on season. March8th and after would have been at the peak of higher temperatures, if broken ridge is anything to go by. It begs the question on why the other items found were void of barnacles. Did these items travel through colder drifts throughout? Opposed to the flaperon?

  17. @Keffertje

    Quite some pieces seem to show signs once barnacles where attached by the little rings they can leave when dropping/rubbed or eaten off.
    The RR-piece shows clearly that in a relatively short time a piece that was full of barnacles can be cleaned from them.

    A take was earlier those pieces void or almost void of barnacles had beached longer time before they where found (longer as the flaperon) and where mostly or totally ripped off their barnacles by different possible means.

  18. @Ge Rijn

    ‘To believe all this radar systems were shut down at that time is nonsens or wishfull thinking IMO.’

    This article shows that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have maritime rather than aerial strategic importance, and very few aircrafts are based there.


    The WSJ article also suggests that their radar was shut down that night.

    Sumatra, on the other hand, takes serious any violation of their airspace:

  19. @David
    For me, absence of ELT activity means there was NO crash. Or ELTs was not operating, or whole concept is unuseful in case of total destruction (but I am wrong – while probably not actively released when plane falling down as a stone, something like that, it usually works in case of crash?)

    One thing, probably mentioned already too, is that Boeing recommended/ordered to check or even DISABLE Honeywell ELTs also if on 777s, post London 787 fire incident (July 2013).


  20. Good morning everyone. I’ve just seen ALSM’s links on Twitter regarding the burned piece of debris found by Blaine.

    I’m about to go back through the last few pages of discussion here to see if it’s been talked about already and avoid any re-posting of links.

    Good wishes to you all.

  21. @Ge Rijn

    I think the point is that Port Blair is too far away to be able to spot MH370, while Campbell Bay is too small to operate radar 24/7 and does not have fighter jets capable of intercepting MH370.

    If the plan was to avoid suspicion, that probably was the route to go. But then again, you probably want to turn south after 18:40 to avoid being detected from Sabang trespassing Indonesian airspace. Flying a bit lower is probably helfpul too for that purpose. It doesn’t matter much if you are detected by Indonesia as long as you are not in their airspace.

  22. @M Pat

    There seems to be a contrast between Professor De Deckker’s finding on the temperature requirements for the lepas barnacle and his statement on the current search zone being compatible with this (mean ~37 degrees south). Jeff Wise points this out eloquently in his blog above. Maybe sea temperatures have warmed significantly in 9 years.

    @Gloria @Trond

    With the planting hypothesis one presumes the flaperon was ripped off and placed in warm water (?? say off Indonesia somewhere) and then thrown into the Indian Ocean to drift or do you think placed directly on the beach at Reunion. Presumably local surveillance by the navy/coast guard would have had sufficient holes to allow this with low risk of detection.

    This may also help to explain the lack of 9M-MRO debris on the Australian coastline to date. Sections are sparsely populated but for a variety of reasons surveillance quite robust.

    I note the well considered and researched drift analysis which suggest if 9M-MRO crashed into the PSZ that 20% of debris should arrive on the Australian coastline. This percentage declines (but not to zero) the further north the impact point.

    It is generally accepted that the MAS towelette found on a WA beach some time ago was not from 9M-MRO.

  23. @GeRijn, Thank you for the explanation. Yes, there can be other reasons for the other pieces. True.Susie’s post on the new piece is interesting. We will have to wait and see what the experts say. Blaine has definitely attached himself to mh370 debris like a barnicle for sure.

  24. @Susie

    This would be huge if it’s MH370 and if the burn-marks are from an inboard fire in the EE-bay.
    It’s a honeycomb panel so that would fit but the burn-marks..
    I read with earlier finds beach-debris used to be gathered and burned. Have to be sure it was not burn-marked in an event like this.
    Very interesting find though!

  25. nice to see you and very good point about the burning of beach items.

    I trust Blaine will be very cautious with it, and I hope it reaches the safe custody of the ATSB soon.

  26. @stevebarrat:

    If you are deep enough into the planting theory, there is an obvious risk that no evidence or analysis results you will ever come across will be sufficiently convincing to bring you out of that. This not to say that there won’t be “golddiggers” or fame hunters out there who will try that for their 15 minutes of fame.

  27. I think perhaps the light brown board would also be burned if it were from a bonfire – it looks like only the outer coating has been damaged in this way.

    v strange.

  28. @Susie, It’s worth noting the peculiarity both of Blaine’s debris-finding prowess — he found his first piece within 15 minutes of starting to look on the coast of Mozambique, and later found another in Madagascar while cameras were rolling; the majority of known pieces of suspected MH370 debris were found by him personally — and the remarkably similar condition of Blaine’s pieces, though found many months and thousands of miles apart. All are small enough to fit in a suitcase and all — all! — are free of sea life. One need not necessarily regard this as suspicious to ackowledge that it is statistically remarkable.

  29. @Susie

    I think you can be right. It indeed looks like only the coated surface is burned and partly burned away.
    Hopefully a picture from the backside also appears.

    Instead of solving mysteries new mysteries get added all the time..

  30. @M Pat, With regards to your last question, I interpret his remarks to mean that, without looking too closely at drift patterns and historical sea-surface temperature records, seasonal temperature variations likely play a role in explaining the observed pattern. However, I don’t think he looked at the matter long enough to realize just how problematic his results are.

    Yes, the difference between De Deckker’s results and those of the French are puzzling, but at this point we don’t know what the nature of the differences are, or how they might be caused. I’ve asked Ironside if she can probe De Deckker on this point, and she has agreed in principle, but right now De Deckker is out of the country traveling.

    In the meantime I’m going to do some research into the technique that De Deckker used (laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, LA-ICP-MS) and see what is accuracy is and what confounding factors might be in play. As I mentioned in the post, if any readers would like to look at historical sea surface temperature records and think about what drift patterns might explain the observed pattern, I would be grateful.

  31. I can’t argue with that, Jeff. I hope that Blaine is genuine and I would be inclined to think he is, but obviously no one actually knows.

  32. I agree we should be carefull.
    It probably would be very difficult to identify a small almost featureless piece like this belonging to a 777/MH370 in the first place.
    And the burn-marks (if that’s what they are) could also have occured in Madagascar (or somewhere else).
    They even could have been caused by direct human handling of some sort.
    @Susie, nice to see you back.

  33. There are no reason to doubt his findings. If they truly are from MH370 on the other hand that would be a miracle.

  34. @all

    While one could certainly take the view that confusion is increasing, it is possible to build a strong case for the opposite conclusion.

    In the last two years I would note the following developments as positive.

    1> At the top of the list, where it belongs, is the proper “calibration” of the ISAT data. The analytical community, with few exceptions, has finally come to grips with what this data is capable of telling us. Gone are the days of overconfidence relative to these analytics.

    2> Debris finds – a lot of them, and drift modeling. A lot of progress has been made in this domain and it is, IMO, telling us to go North. While I recognized the imprecision of drift modeling and bio-analytics, the messaging is consistent.

    3> Simulator data. Obviously there is a great deal of polarization on the significance of this finding. To me, the conclusion is more clearcut. I’ll take them at face value, and not try to ponder how those coordinates wound up on Shah’s hard drive when they did.

    4> Malaysian behavior continues to point toward active indifference. Even allowing for cultural differences, it is very clear that the Malay behavior is not consistent with a desire to find the aircraft. Why this is so, I can only speculate.

    While the ATSB seems committed to finish searching the previously defined priority area, I think they realize the aircraft will not be found there. Of course, the politics associated with being candid prevent them from changing priorities at this moment. It remains to be seen if the parties involved will interpret new data as a strong enough motivation to initiate further searching elsewhere.

    In the meantime all we can do is watch and wait.

  35. @Jeff Wise

    Those data are from almost two decades earlier spanning 14 years but show in general higher temperatures in March off the west coast of Australia around ~35S compared to July.
    In your published graphic the current search area is completely in the colder water below ~18 Celsius. But this is July.
    Starting in the beginning of March drifting North-east first the flaperon would be starting in warmer waters (around 35S and 18C) and entering even warmer waters sooner than the colder water can catch up with the coming winter.

    More important maybe it could be another indication the crash area cann’t be more south than ~35S. The water there would be too cold for barnacles to attach and it would take too long to reach the warmer waters in time by drift.

  36. @Dennis

    No4, Malaysian behaviour. To me it speaks volumes. “sometimes, people do terrible things”. This was the first time someone had done such a terrible, calculated, cold blooded thing with a plane load of innocent people. How could the Malaysians be expected to react? Answer: there was only one way they could react,and we have witnessed it. The only way they could react was to pretend to want to find answers, an hope to God they never find the plane.

    If he had done a “Germanwings”, it would have been much more straightforward for all concerned. Unfortunately, this guy was more devious and calculating.

    Undoubtedly, lessons will be learned, the world will move on, but the plane will probably never be found.

    At the moment, the ATSB are not in an enviable position.

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