An unforgivably complex phenomenon is making it almost impossible to locate the downed Malaysia Air flight

On Wednesday, a piece of what appears to be a section of a Boeing 777 washed ashore on the small island of La Reunion, and now authorities are investigating whether this could be the very first piece of debris ever discovered from the alleged plain crash of last year’s Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The island is about 600 miles east of Madagascar, shown below:

This is more than 3,000 miles west of where ongoing efforts have copes out the bottom of the ocean for wreckage. The map below shows some of the places searched so far:

Is it possible that the debris could have travelled so far from where experts think the plane crash landed?

Arnold Gordon, a Columbia University professor of ocean stratification and circulation, told Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin absolutely! The complex system of ocean currents that make up the Indian Ocean have made it difficult to pinpoint the crash site.

The currents in the Indian Ocean are mainly driven by its winter and summer monsoon seasons.

The Indian Ocean straddles the equator. To its north, strong winds blow north-east between October and April, but they change direction to south-west from May to the following October. The south has milder wind patterns.

The winds generates two large circular rotating currents, called gyres, in the northern Indian Ocean and one in the south. Here they are:

Flight 370 allegedly crash landed in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean during mid-March of 2014, and search efforts have focused on a region off the west coast of Australia near the equator.

The tricky thing about the Indian ocean’s northern gyres is that they are one of the few in the world that change direction over the course of the year. In the summer, the gyres flow clockwise but in the winter they reverse direction and flow counterclockwise. This change in direction extends down to the equator.

The southern gyre does not change direction. And since the search site is near the equator, it’s incredibly difficult to determine where the wreckage may have been swept off to.

Oceanographers at the University of Western Australia calculated a possible path shown below, which supports the notion that this piece of plane wreckage could have made it as far west as the island of La Reunion:

If proven, this would not only help to confirm that the flight crashed in the ocean but could also provide some closure to the family and friends of the passengers of that flight, some of whom still have a sliver of hope that perhaps the plane did not crash and its passengers are still alive, reported CNN.

NOW WATCH: This animation collects and analyses all the theories behind the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.