The continuing search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is complicated by the immense size of the search area and its distance from sea lanes and major ports, as well as the nature of the Indian Ocean.
The currents and turbulence of the Indian Ocean presents challenges in sighting and tracking potential aircraft wreckage. Satellite photos showing possible pieces of an airplane could be instead showing flotsam from previous wrecks and storms, or simply waste produced by globalization and circulated through transoceanic currents.
According to the BBC, “the satellite photos [of potential objects] cover a zone where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, encircling Antarctica. There is a risk … that waste in this area could have come from any of the world’s major oceans – all of which border Antarctica. In that case, the flecks in the pictures may just be the floating detritus of globalisation, such as some of the thousands of shipping containers thought to be lost at sea every year.”
The frustrating search for the missing Malaysian Airlines aircraft highlights the growing problems of the globalization of waste and marine debris. Plastic pollution is perhaps the best known type of marine debris, due to scientific research and frequent media reports on the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
Environmental historians, maritime historians, marine archaeologists, and historians of globalization have been working on tracing the historical development of pollution, wreckage, and waste in the world’s seas and oceans over the past several centuries.