There is a bit of research going around now that both pleases and irritates me. It pleases me because it appears to support two years of my own work on MH370’s final resting place. It irritates me because I spent a lot of time educating one of those who claims to be an author of the study (David Griffin) and he doesn’t credit me as the source for his new knowledge. Yet that individual was part of an extensive conversation between a NOAA colleague (Rick Lumpkin) with connections to all of the study’s authors. How did two national oceanographic bureaucracies learn the plane was likely to be in the Zenith Plateau area? They learned from Moi, and it will emerge (below) that Zenith Plateau was the farthest thing from their minds when I first approached them in February 2016.
My central concern is very simple and narrow: there is no attribution for two years of my own work that led these researchers to conclude MH370 is most likely in the Zenith Plateau area; not south of Broken Ridge where the original search is now wrapping up without so much as a moist towelette to show for three years and A$180 million. It is a small thing in the grand scheme of things. It isn’t something anyone could put in a bank. It may not even be something someone would add to a resume. But it is the fundamental way professional people and organizations do things.
Attribution standards vary, but in general, any person or entity that materially contributes to the focus or outcome of scientific research must be properly credited and acknowledged. This is how Yale University frames the issue for its researchers.
Individuals who do not meet the requirements for authorship but who have provided a valuable contribution to the work should be acknowledged for their contributing role as appropriate to the publication. Yale Provost
Of course, the work at issue was not published by Yale. It was published by NOAA. So, what are NOAA’s attribution standards? Basically the same as Yale University’s.
So now the issue is, Is there compelling evidence Griffin and Lumpkin believed the plane was in the original search area as of February 2016? Yes; and well beyond February 2016. A trail of email makes that unambiguous.
Important to stress before going on that no one knows for certain the plane is somewhere between Zenith and Batavia. At least not yet. We have what I consider to be reasonably good circumstantial evidence that is where it is, but until we actually see it on sonar and map its location, it remains just our new “best guess”.
How I became Interested in Zenith / Batavia
Germany’s Geomar did the first credible drift model I know of that suggested the plane is probably south and east of what is known as Ninety East Ridge, which tracks south from Bay of Bengal to an underwater mountainous region west of Exmouth, at or near Zenith Plateau.
The graphic below is how Geomar originally illustrated where their reverse drift analysis indicated the plane is resting in August 2015, shortly after the flaperon was recovered on Reunion Island. The primary author was Dr. Jonathon Durgadoo.
I was struck by the logic and simplicity of Geomar’s and Durgadoo’s work. But I also quickly realized Geomar’s first drift model put the plane’s possible location too far north. Prevailing winds and currents would have pushed at least some of the debris onto Indonesia and the Cocos / Christmas Island areas. But I had long felt the 7th Arc construct was mostly correct. So, where could the plane be that was on or near the 7th Arc that would keep it far enough from surrounding shores to eliminate the chance debris would be found in the immediate area?
The simple answer was: “farther south”, but on or near the 7th Arc. It was the only possibility that seemed to work.
Geomar used a particle distribution model to examine the possibilities. I chose to use NOAA’s satellite-tracked drifters (sans drogues, but not sure it matters). NOAA had had drifters in the South Indian Ocean since the 1980s; plenty of time to record drift patterns. The obvious question was, Where would something that ended up on Reunion Island have begun if it indeed began near the 7th Arc?
I worked with NOAA drift files that had upwards of a million records each. It was slow going, but I liked what I was seeing. It made sense to me, and it was mostly consistent with Geomar’s work. Geomar had become an important benchmark.
My work was putting the likely location of the flaperon well south of Geomar’s work, in the Wharton Basin and Zenith Plateau areas. I couldn’t be sure at first that that was correct, but retracing my steps through millions of records, I concluded it had to be largely correct.
Then in May 2016 Geomar released a revised version of its original model, as shown below. Voila! It was entirely consistent with my work. It also targeted the Zenith area west of Exmouth, Australia.
Zenith Plateau is very near the 7th Arc. The revised Arc is just a bit west of Zenith. That was important because one of the few ULB pinger “hits” in the early weeks of the search was precisely there. The only other ULB “hit” I’m aware of occured about 600 km SW of Zenith at Batavia Seamount. A Chinese vessel reported that possible encounter.
Neither the Zenith nor the Batavia ULB possibilities was fully explored. Australia’s and China’s search vessels at the time did not have deepwater sonar capable of going to the bottom of those seas, some of which is south of -7,000 meters (-4.5 miles). So, we do not know to this day if Australia and / or China really heard the final pings from MH370’s failing ULB batteries. Instead of checking it, the entire search quickly moved 2,000 km south to the now discredited 3-year-long original search area.
In summary, my path to Zenith started with Geomar’s reverse drift efforts, and was followed by my own detailed work with millions of NOAA satellite-tracked drifter files. Moreover, I was very public about my efforts on Twitter and this website, partly because I genuinely believe there has been far too much secrecy by Malaysia and Australia. I feel that has been a horrible disservice to families, and to the thousands of us around the world who want to contribute in some small way to finding the plane, but have not had access to official information.
The foregoing describes my path in the search. But how did NOAA and CSIRO and Dr. David Griffin come to conclude the Zenith area is correct? Did they even do original work? Answer: NOAA and CSIRO both had communication with me, and they were allowed to read detailed descriptions of how drift patterns accually work in the South Indian Ocean. Griffin had published several attempts at drift models, all of which where horribly incorrect.
The Correspondence Between NOAA, CSIRO, and Mike Chillit
The following emails show how NOAA’s Lumpkin and CSIRO’s Griffin learned that the original search area was beyond the realm of possibility. Nothing has been redacted except the identity of a personal friend who lives in Belgium who I wrote twice to lament “bone headed” search efforts. He made no contributions to my work.
My first effort to contact Dr. Rick Lumpkin was a few days after the flaperon was found on Reunion Island. I had never met him, but was an admirer of his work in oceanography.
I got an auto response and didn’t try again for six months.
I next wrote to Lumpkin in mid-February 2016 after becoming frustrated with the persistence of the search in an area I felt quite sure would not be fruitful.
Rick referred me to Dr. David Griffin’s website and his rudimentary drift models.
The question in the back of my mind was, had Griffin deliberately looked for arguments to stay in the original search area, rather than look for arguments to go where the plane might actually be? He constructed his inquiry irresponsibly, in my opinion. For example, he selected drifters only if they passed through the southern-most part of the official search area. That strategy inherently biased his entire effort. If he had wanted to explore all possibilities, he would have selected all drifters that crossed the 7th Arc between Java Island and -40S. In fact, I could think of no reason to select drifters as he did EXCEPT to build a very biased argument that favored the original search area. Now, more than a year later, I still believe that is what he did, deliberately. Was he told to do that, or was that the limit of his research design knowledge?
It made no sense to me that the flaperon had drifted all the way to the Mascarene Islands from the original search area. Most NOAA drifters in that area keep moving east toward Tasmania and New Zealand or they wash ashore in Western Australia. Griffin’s approach prevented most of those drifters from even being examined.
I finally told Lumpkin what was bothering me: that Griffin had been asked or told to bias or falsify his data, or had elected to conduct it in a manner than would not interfere with Australia’s preference to stay where it was. (History has proven me correct.)
Feeling awkward about trying to push Lumpkin too far, I wrote an old high school friend.
I decided to ask Rick for one more model run since I did not have access to his data.
The result was exactly as I thought it would be. It fully supported Geomar’s work, at least in a crude manner.
I next made annotations to Rick’s charts to show him exactly how I interpreted various aspects of them. Most importantly, the official search area could not possibly be correct. I also unequivocally told Rick where we had to look in this February 19, 2016 email: Zenith Plateau.
I next hoped to involve David Griffin. Right or wrong, it was my initial belief that there would be no changes to the search strategy unless Griffin agreed. I eventually learned that Griffin was just a small cog in a much larger apparatus, and that the real problem was his boss or colleague, Dr. Neil Gordon.
Rick agreed to involve Griffin.
Sent David Griffin an explanation of why I believed the ongoing search area could not possibly be correct.
Instead of asking questions or seeking clarification, Griffin came out swinging. I found it bizarre and dooming for the success of the search. (Like David, I used no-drogue drifter data.)
Thoroughly disappointed and angry, I once again wrote to Belgium and included copies of the correspondence.
But I didn’t give up.
Rick’s reply told me immediately he felt an obligation to go to David’s defence, although I suspect Rick is the one who eventually helped David grasp the issues.
From my point of view, David was clearly not ready to accept the possibility his work had been incorrect. He seemed to believe the flaperon could have started in the original search area and, given enough time, wash up on Reunion Island instead of Western Australia. It troubled me that Australian researchers didn’t seem to understand how currents work on either side of their own continent.
I next tried “What-If?” in an effort to calm David.
I didn’t bother to try to explain the probabilities to David. I was convinced he wouldn’t understand them. But, from a statistical probability point of view, the original search area had been completely eliminated by late December 2014. David’s reply was from someone who had no grasp on what he was doing as a researcher.
So I slid out of the conversation. Let David and Rick go back to their comfort zones.
Geomar published a revised drift model in May 2016, two months after my interaction with Lumpkin and Griffin. By September I had completed a number of fairly complex analyses of Indian Ocean currents an a grid of 1° latitude by 1° longitude: about twice as precise as previous work by NOAA’s Rick Lumpkin. I sent a copy of one of the charts to Rick, and he replied.
Rick’s concerns were minor. The bottom line on my chart above was that if one follows the arrows from Reunion Island to the Seventh Arc, that is the most likely place the plane came down. It is childishly simple. Months later, NOAA would officially agree with me, but it would not credit my work, or anyone else’s work. It was the Johnny-come-lately to the effort and exhibited the worst of American arrogance.
I sent Rick a copy of the reverse drift chart he had done for me earlier that year to refresh his memory.
I then sent a final version or my drift model back to Rick on September 22, 2016. The length of each vector (arrow) was proportional to current speed in that area. It was a complicated work product. By simply following arrows from a particular debris endpoint, such as Reunion Island, one comes pretty close to where the debris started drifting on the Seventh Arc. There were no other models like this at the time, not even Geomar’s.
END of Correspondence Between NOAA, CSIRO, and Mike Chillit
Relevant Location-Specific Graphics in September 2016
On September 1, 2016, after putting MH370 down for most of the previous two months to monitor the EgyptAir MS804 loss in the Mediterranean, I published the following charts during that period. They are unequivocal about the plane’s likely location, as are many earlier charts.
September 2, 2016
September 4, 2016
September 10, 2016
September 12, 2016
September 14, 2016
September 27, 2016
September 30, 2016 (Swipe at ATSB, CSIRO for ignoring all but their own drum)
I hope it is reasonably clear from the foregoing that in February 2016, David Griffin was busy arguing for the validity of the failing search, and that the last thing on his mind was that MH370 might actually be 2,000 km north near Zenith Plateau. When researchers bias their own work to support the politics of the moment, as Griffin did, the outcome is usually unpleasant.
Then suddenly, two weeks ago, David Griffin’s name appeared as a coauthor of a study that points to the very same terminal location area: Zenith Plateau. How did he do that?
This is an excerpt from David Griffin’s December 14, 2016 article in The Guardian. I am not mentioned; nor is Geomar; nor is Dr. Jonathan Durgadoo:
By combining the real trajectories from actual instruments with the simulated trajectories, scientists were able to identify the location where a crash was most likely, shown in the image below.
More recent debris discoveries confirm the general westward drift predictions from the computer program and analysis. While the assessments from this study are interesting in that they are related to the MH370 accident, the techniques that the researchers developed can be used for other ocean-debris scenarios and are useful both for basic research as well as more tangible applications for societal benefits, such as search and rescue efforts, oil spills, and fish larval transports.
What? Where did this bombshell come from? Did anyone alert David Griffin to his new discovery? Because one week later, he writes on his own website that the plane has to be far to the south of the Zenith Plateau between -35°S and -36°S, 2,000+ km away!
Are Griffin and CSIRO trying to rewrite history so no one will notice? This makes no sense at all. To this day, they maintain the plane came down south of a geographic feature known as Broken Ridge, southwest of Perth.
December 20, 2016
David Griffin’s most recent work is here: http://www.marine.csiro.au/~griffin/MH370/. It is the first article. In it, Griffin claims the plane must be somewhere on the 7th Arc between -35°S and -36°S. This is a verbatim excerpt, bold added:
The report describes why the northwestward displacement of items originating near 35-36S would explain the absence of detections during the surface search in March-April 2014 as well as the absence of debris findings on the WA coastline. This suggests the crash occurred near 36S-35S. The report also explains why we think that the accident is very unlikely to have occurred north of 32S or south of 39S.
Here is a screen grab of Griffin’s website, taken on December 31, 2016. It is clickable to make it easier to read:
Griffin’s reference to “life-size, GPS-equipped replicas of the flaperon and two other found parts of the aircraft alongside oceanographic drifters” is a set of five faux flaperons.
This ‘stunt’ may be the REAL reason David Griffin wants to claim he has had a change of heart and thinks the plane may have come down near Zenith Plateau. But if it is, he should have backdated his website so it isn’t so obvious nearly everything he has touched so far has been tainted in one way or another.
OK. Well, is it possible Rick Lumpkin was not the NOAA researcher who put Joaquin A. Trinanes onto the need for a proper drift study? No. Not likely at all. Lumpkin and Trinanes have worked together a long time. For example, they were co-investigators in 2004 for NOAA in an Eastern Caribbean study in which Lumpkin was a more senior researcher. And of course it is obvious that Griffin had inside knowledge gained from me personally and from Rick Lumpkin.
This is a shameful example of how government researchers behave sometimes if they think they can get away with it. I have been pushing Australia and others to be more open to outsiders like myself for a long time. I’ve pushed a lot of buttons Down Under. We do that as fallible humans when we become frustrated with monolithic agencies that bully their way around for no good purpose. And I have had lots of company. Almost no one believes Australia has seriously tried to find that plane. And Australia is about to prove that by walking away from it entirely.
I suspect the Australian government in Canberra would like to have its thoroughly bungled search effort vaporized somehow. But sometimes you have to suck it up and do the right thing. Or let the next US administration do it with even more undesireable consequences quite possible.
It isn’t just Griffin’s claim he somehow experienced an epiphany that inspired him to think beyond the original search area. A lot of us around the world have contributed to the total effort to find MH370. Blaine Gibson, Geomar, Jonathon Durgadoo, and even Jeff Wise with his wholly improbable Kazakhstan scenario, forced at least a few people to begin thinking larger. Any properly documented effort to go beyond where we now are needs to include all of these efforts to show the stair-step progression it is. Not, as NOAA and Griffin have done: pretend they have worked in a vacuum.
Just too bad if someone in Canberra has had his feelings hurt. The secrecy and political interference have been horribly damaging. Face it. Try to learn. Stop hiding what has happened.