The loss of an F35 fighter aircraft and the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370

Alec Duncan –

Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin University, Bentley, WA, 6102, Australia

David Dall’Osto
Applied Physics Laboratory
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington
United States

Popular version of 1pAO2 – Long-range underwater acoustic detection of aircraft surface impacts – the influence of acoustic propagation conditions and impact parameters
Presented at the 185th ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at

Please keep in mind that the research described in this Lay Language Paper may not have yet been peer reviewed.

In the right circumstances, sound can travel thousands of kilometres through water, so when Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 went missing in the Indian Ocean in 2014 we searched recordings from underwater microphones called hydrophones for any signal that could be connected to that tragic event. One signal of interest was found, but when we looked at it more carefully it seemed unlikely to be related to the loss of the aircraft.

Fast-forward five years and in 2019 the fatal crash of an F35 fighter aircraft in the Sea of Japan was detected by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) using hydrophones near Wake Island, in the north-western Pacific, some 3000 km from the crash site1.

Fig. 1. Locations of the F35 crash and the CTBTO HA11N hydroacoustic station near Wake Island that detected it.

With the whereabouts of MH370 still unknown, we decided to compare the circumstances of the F35 crash with those of the loss of MH370 to see whether we should change our original conclusions about the signal of interest.

Fig. 2. Location of the CTBTO HA01 hydroacoustic station off the southwest corner of Australia. The two light blue lines are the measured bearing of the signal of interest with an uncertainty of +/- 0.75 degrees.

We found that long range hydrophone detection of the crash of MH370 is much less likely than that of the F35, so our conclusions still stand, however there is some fascinating science behind the differences.

Fig. 3. Top: comparison of modelled received signal strengths versus distance from the hydrophones for the MH370 and F35 cases. Bottom: water depth and deep sound channel (DSC) axis depth along each path.

Aircraft impacts generate lots of underwater sound, but most of this travels steeply downward then bounces up and down between the seafloor and sea surface, losing energy each time, and dying out before it has a chance to get very far sideways. For long range detection to be possible the sound must be trapped in the deep sound channel (DSC), a depth region where the water properties stop the sound hitting the seabed or sea surface. There are two ways to get the sound from a surface impact into the DSC. The first is by reflections from a downward sloping seabed, and the second is if the impact occurs somewhere the deep sound channel comes close to the sea surface. Both these mechanisms occurred for the F35 case, leading to very favourable conditions for coupling the sound into the deep sound channel.

Fig. 4. Sound speed and water depth along the track from CTBTO’s HA11N hydroacoustic station (magenta circle) to the estimated F35 crash location (magenta triangle). The broken white line is the deep sound channel axis.

We don’t know where MH370 crashed, but the signal of interest came from somewhere along a bearing that extended northwest into the Indian Ocean from the southwest corner of Australia, which rules out the second mechanism, and there are very few locations along this bearing where the first mechanism would come into play.

Fig. 5. Sound speed and water depth in the direction of interest from CTBTO’s HA01 hydroacoustic station off Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia (magenta circle). The broken white line is the deep sound channel axis.

This analysis doesn’t completely rule out the signal of interest being related to MH370, but it still seems less likely than it being due to low-level seismic activity, something that results in signals at HA01 from similar directions about once per day.

[1] Metz D, Obana K, Fukao Y, “Remote Hydroacoustic Detection of an Airplane Crash”, Pure and Applied Geophysics,  180 (2023), 1343-1351.

Turning Up Ocean Temperature & Volume – Underwater Soundscapes in a Changing Climate

Freeman Lauren –

Instagram: @laur.freeman

NUWC Division Newport, NAVSEA, Newport, RI, 02841, United States

Dr. Lauren A. Freeman, Dr. Daniel Duane, Dr. Ian Rooney from NUWC Division Newport and
Dr. Simon E. Freeman from ARPA-E

Popular version of 1aAB1 – Passive Acoustic Monitoring of Biological Soundscapes in a Changing Climate
Presented at the 184 ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at

Climate change is impacting our oceans and marine ecosystems across the globe. Passive acoustic monitoring of marine ecosystems has been shown to provide a window into the heartbeat of an ecosystem, its relative health, and even information such as how many whales or fish are present in a given day or month. By studying marine soundscapes, we collate all of the ambient noise at an underwater location and attribute parts of the soundscape to wind and waves, to boats, and to different types of biology. Long term biological soundscape studies allow us to track changes in ecosystems with a single, small, instrument called a hydrophone. I’ve been studying coral reef soundscapes for nearly a decade now, and am starting to have time series long enough to begin to see how climate change affects soundscapes. Some of the most immediate and pronounced impacts of climate change on shallow ocean soundscapes are evident in varying levels of ambient biological sound. We found a ubiquitous trend at research sites in both the tropical Pacific (Hawaii) and sub-tropical Atlantic (Bermuda) that warmer water tends to be associated with higher ambient noise levels. Different frequency bands provide information about different ecological processes (such as fish calls, invertebrate activity, and algal photosynthesis). The response of each of these processes to temperature changes is not uniform, however each type of ambient noise increases in warmer water. At some point, ocean warming and acidification will fundamentally change the ecological structure of a shallow water environment. This would also be reflected in a fundamentally different soundscape, as described by peak frequencies and sound intensity. While I have not monitored the phase shift of an ecosystem at a single site, I have documented and shown that healthy coral reefs with high levels of parrotfish and reef fish have fundamentally different soundscapes, as reflected in their acoustic signature at different frequency bands, than coral reefs that are degraded and overgrown with fleshy macroalgae. This suggests that long term soundscape monitoring could also track these ecological phase shifts under climate stress and other impacts to marine ecosystems such as overfishing.

A healthy coral reef research site in Hawaii with vibrant corals, many reef fish, and copious nooks and crannies for marine invertebrates to make their homes.
Soundscape segmented into three frequency bands capturing fish vocalizations (blue), parrotfish scrapes (red), and invertebrate clicks along with algal photosynthesis bubbles (yellow). All features show an increase in ambient noise level (PSD, y-axis) with increasing ocean temperature at each site studied in Hawaii.