MH370: Photoshopping With Hillshade?

The Hillshade image below was briefly circulated on Twitter and elsewhere in June 2021 by Victor Vescovo after his Caladan Oceanic acquired it at Zenith Abyss with a Kongsberg EM124 Multibeam Echosounder in May 2021. (It now appears to have been just as quickly withdrawn from circulation for reasons unknown.) An alternative “3-D” image at the bottom of the page shows the same abyssal seafloor four years earlier, in June 2017; the latter was acquired by Germany’s Geomar with a Kongsberg EM122 Multibeam Echosounder.

Figure 1
Figure 1: A June 21, 2021 Tweet from Victor Vescovo sharing a Hillshade map of Zenith Abyss. He would later acknowledge that he was not on the voyage that acquired it and that marine biologist Alan Jamieson coached him on how to respond to inquiries. At the time, Jamieson had just been hired by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation to be a “founding director” at the University of Western Australia, Perth. (It has long been known that the US government identified the Zenith area as MH370’s crash location within days of its disappearance in March 2014.)

The Caladan image is a “Hillshade”. Such images can be thought of as “grayscale-with-options”. Hillshade images have pluses and minuses, depending upon intended use; one of the minuses is that they do not show elevations to scale. The following ArcGIS excerpts elaborate.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Above: overview of Hillshade imagery.
Figure 3
Figure 3: Above: two examples of Hillshade imagery.

A simple visual comparison of the 2017 Geomar and 2021 Caladan images suggests that the Hillshade version is not entirely useful for visualizing detail in Zenith Abyss. For example, the 2017 Geomar image is more detailed, showing volcanic-like rocky terrain, industrial-size potholes, and other features completely lost in Hillshade.

Figure 2
Figure 4: Enlarged Hillshade image of the Zenith Abyss, reportedly prepared by Alan Jamieson and others following a voyage to Zenith Abyss for what is believed to have been a mission to map and document the MH370 debris field. .

It appears that the 2021 Caladan voyage to Zenith Abyss, funded by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, was entirely devoted to documenting MH370’s final resting place. Two or three other seafloor areas were visited on that Caladan voyage after it left Zenith Abyss, but it is believed the sole purpose of those brief stops was to make is appear that the Zenith portion was somehow related to marine biology rather than a very tardy crash investigation.

What was Malaysia’s role? Unknown, if any. But it is known that Malaysia was notified of the voyage to Zenith in advance. There is likely only one reason Minderoo and Canberra believed it important to notify Kuala Lumpur in advance since the preferred narrative from Australia has long been that the plane crashed halfway to Antarctica. If one believes Malaysia’s government was tipped in advance out of normal courtesy, it must follow that Australia routinely notifies Kuala Lumpur in advance whenever an Australian-flagged vessel sails into the East Indian Ocean. Good luck with that one.

Below is one of at least two renditions of the Zenith Abyss acquired by Geomar in June 2017. It is a 3-D rendition. In general, the image below is consistent with other images of that narrow 11 km to 15km wide fracture in that particular seafloor.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Three dimensional rendering of the Zenith Abyss prepared for Geomar’s German Language Weekly Report for Sonne cruise SO258 Leg 1, INGON 1. Wochenbericht (06.06. – 11.06.2017). June 2017.