Treacherous Seas Known as 'Roaring Forties' Focus Malaysia Airlines Search

Currents and weather will complicate the search for the missing plane.

ByABC News
March 20, 2014, 11:06 AM

March 20, 2014— -- The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has homed in on the south Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, an expanse of deep sea so turbulent it is known by sailors as the "Roaring Forties."

Australia announced late Wednesday that satellite images may show two objects that could be pieces of the missing plane floating in the ocean more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia.

Overnight, four search planes rushed to search the area and find the objects for a closer look, but returned to base without finding any evidence of plane parts. Several ships are also heading to the area and additional flights are expected to scan the area for any clues to MH370's disappearance.

The south Indian Ocean off of Australia is a remote body of water so treacherous it has earned the nickname "Roaring Forties" for the roiling seas and searing westerly wind that engulfs the area between latitude 40 degrees and 50 degrees, according to Australia's ABC Science.

The trade wins that cut across the open expanse of sea are not slowed down or cooled by any land mass, allowing gusts that can create waves 20 feet and higher, according to the report.

The ocean off of Australia's western coast was once frequently used by sailors who took advantage of the winds, but many ships now avoid the area. Global shipping routes direct cargo ships from Australia to head north toward Asia and Europe, rather than south or west through these latitudes.

The average depths of the water are more than 14,000 feet and the currents are strong, leaving the possibility that parts of any plane debris that may be found could have drifted for miles. And if something sinks in the area, it sinks into a very deep ocean.

The planes and ships combing the area will search more than 14,000 square nautical miles for any sign of the plane. The larger of the two items captured by satellite was reportedly some 78 feet long - a speck in such a vast, roaring ocean.