SDSU Visualization Lab Helps Search For Missing Jet

Anyone can help look for oil spills or debris via satellite images.

By Lauren Lee
|  Friday, Mar 14, 2014  |  Updated 8:37 AM PDT
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As countries continue to send resources to help find the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, San Diego State University is also aiding in the search from here. NBC 7’s Lauren Lee reports from SDSU’s Visualization Lab where they've been analyzing thousands of satellite images for clues -- and they say anyone can join in the search.

As countries continue to send resources to help find the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, San Diego State University is also aiding in the search from here. NBC 7’s Lauren Lee reports from SDSU’s Visualization Lab where they've been analyzing thousands of satellite images for clues -- and they say anyone can join in the search.

A San Diego group has joined the search for a missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner that mysteriously disappeared a week ago en route to Beijing.

The San Diego State Visualization Lab, also known as the Viz Lab, is recruiting people to help analyze satellite imagery from NASA and other satellite companies and using their software to detect any hot spots

Viz Lab professor Waldo Kleynhans said they are looking for shapes that are abnormal or dark patches in the ocean, which may identify oil spills from a crashed plane.

“We have a good feel for what certain objects and imagery look like; we can quickly identify areas of interest,” said Kleynhans.

Their fast-processing computers scan the satellite images, and when it detects something unusual, it provides the geographical information. Then, they take a closer look at the images.

Kleynhans is a visiting researcher from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa.

When he saw images of an oil spill off the southern tip of Vietnam, initially believed to be the possible site of the crash, he immediately knew it wasn't from an airplane.

“Typically, when it’s a plane crash, it doesn’t look like that. With a plane crash, the oil is spread more sporadically from the crash site,” he said.

But Kleynhans said there are some limitations.

“The area you’re trying to cover is extremely large. Even with satellite imagery, if you want high enough resolution, you need to have an idea of where you want to look at,” said Kleynhans.

Anyone can analyze images as Kleynhans does.

Crowdsourcing website Tomnod.com provides satellite images for people to volunteer to look through. As of Wednesday, more than 200,000 people have signed up on the website to help look for the jet.

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