Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 search helped by Nova Scotian

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is getting help from a former executive director of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

Dr. Ken Lee, formerly of Bedford Institute of Oceanography, providing ocean current information

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in remote seas off Australia headed underwater, with a U.S. Navy high tech "black box" locator deployed as the battery life of the cockpit data recorder dwindles. (Nick Perry/Reuters)

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is getting help from a former executive director of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

Ken Lee, the director of Wealth From Oceans Flagships for Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CISRO), said the pings heard over the weekend — faint sounds from deep in the Indian Ocean, possibly from the missing jetliner's black boxes — are a good sign. 

"I hope so. It's good news that they seem to feel they have a pinger. I think we're getting closer, there's no doubt about it," he said Tuesday.

"There's always the worry that the pinger could stop at any time. Hopefully the batteries will hold out long enough that we can actually track it down and recover it."

Search crews have so far failed to relocate the faint sounds and sound locating equipment on board search vessels have picked up no trace of the signals since they were first heard late Saturday and early Sunday.

Lee said his experiences with SwissAir Flight 111 — which crashed near Peggys Cove in 1998 — and the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in 2010 are helping in the search for the Malaysian plane that went missing on March 8. 

"One of the things I've learned is how to react in situations like this where marine incidents happen and you try to do the best you can with what you have in the shortest amount of time," he said. 

Kenneth Lee moved to Perth, Australia, after the federal government cut jobs at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. (CBC)

Lee's Australian institute collects year-round environmental information on Australia's oceans, including details about the currents, navigation and weather.  

"We've been providing information on the circulation of the ocean, so if they find any debris on the ocean from aircraft, to try and tell them where it could be so ships could pick it up," he said from Perth. 

If the debris has drifted, the information could help search crews work backwards to figure out where the plane went down. 

He's also giving information on the ocean's temperature, salinity and water pressure, which impacts how sounds moves. 

"We're applying this information and the models we built to support the search operations," Lee said. 

But the 4,500-metre depth of the ocean makes it complex. "It's a real challenge and at that depth they're pretty much at the limit of the autonomous vehicle they have on the [search] vessel," he said.

Lee left Nova Scotia's Bedford Institute for Oceanography in 2012 after the Harper government downsized the lab. He was also an adjunct professor at Dalhousie University.