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Nation/World

March 31, 2014

Seabed of jet hunt zone mostly flat with one trench

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Two miles beneath the sea surface where satellites and planes are looking for debris from the missing Malaysian jet, the ocean floor is cold, dark, covered in a squishy muck of dead plankton and — in a potential break for the search — mostly flat. The troubling exception is a steep, rocky drop ending in a deep trench.

The seafloor in this swath of the Indian Ocean is dominated by a substantial underwater plateau known as Broken Ridge, where the geography would probably not hinder efforts to find the main body of the jet that disappeared with 239 people on board three weeks ago, according to seabed experts who have studied the area.

Australian officials on Friday moved the search to an area 680 miles to the northeast of a previous zone as the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continued to confound. There is no guarantee that the jet crashed into the new search area. Planes that have searched it for two days have spotted objects of various colors and sizes, but none of the items scooped by ships has been confirmed to be related to the plane.

The zone is huge: about 123,000 square miles, roughly the size of Poland or New Mexico. But it is closer to land than the previous search zone, its weather is much more hospitable — and Broken Ridge sounds a lot craggier than it really is.

And the deepest part is believed to be 19,000 feet, within the range of American black-box ping locators on an Australian ship that left yesterday for the area and is expected to arrive in three or four days.

Formed about 100 million years ago by volcanic activity, the ridge was once above water. Pulled under by the spreading of the ocean floor, now it is more like a large underwater plain, gently sloping from as shallow as about 2,625 feet to about 9,843 feet) deep. It got its name because long ago the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates separated it from another plateau, which now sits about 1,550 miles to the southwest.

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