HAMNET Report 17 September 2017

Stationed in an empty field at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina, Virginia Tech electrical engineering Professor Greg Earle and his team waited for the total solar eclipse of 2017. Rather than travelling toward the path of totality to see one of “nature’s most awe-inspiring sights,” Earle prepared to put his three-year-old hypothesis on radio propagation to the test.

With roughly two minutes to run diagnostics for the bulk of their project, Earle and his friends sat nestled between high-powered radars and transceivers. In the still of silence, they heard the sound of crickets turn on like clockwork, confused by their early bedtime call at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Over a dozen colleagues were involved in the making of vertical radar equipment that extrapolated data before, during and following the period of artificial light induced by the total solar eclipse.

After studying the ionosphere in graduate school, which is a part of the sky that conducts atmospheric electricity above 50 kilometres, Earle used his specialized research to understand unquantified events such as auroras and later eclipses in terms of radio, GPS and radar operation.

The eclipse, according to Earle, writing in the CollegiateTimes, will give him an opportunity to collect astronomical research with at least three separate technologies that were nonexistent in the early 1900s.

Not only are GPS receivers global now, allowing researchers to mine an extraordinary amount of data per cubic mile, but Software Defined Radio is barely a decade old. This programming function gives a computer the capability to act like a radio receiver but at an even faster speed.

These tools, partnered with the knowledge of thousands of wave frequencies from competing HAM radio operators, is what Earle believes separates his work from serendipitous discovery.

When an eclipse happens the artificial night allows more radio energy to generate signal strength rather than being consumed by the neutral particles in the ionosphere.

With over 700,000 HAM radio operators in the United States, all operating in the same frequencies, being monitored by Virginia Tech’s research team, Earle designed rules for a radio contest that would test wave efficiency, with tasks like, “How quickly can you make contact with someone from all of the 50 states?”

Once the Reverse Beacon Network goes through these logs, it will then be made available for this scientific study.

If artificial night could be manipulated in the future, Earle says that this research could lead to more secure communication between government officials in top secret situations.

“Once we know the effects better, there may indeed be people, especially in the Department of Defence (DOD) community who look at that seriously as a way to change the communication channel either for ourselves or for anybody we are currently having a conflict with,” Earle said.

In order to comprehend the extensive science behind a solar eclipse, Earle relates the world to a paper map and the eclipse to the lens on a magnifying glass; however, the roughly circular region that is magnified will act at wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye. The goal of his project is to look at as many rays propagating through that intensified region and its signal by-products, as possible.

Although it is estimated that the research will not be released to the public for another year or two, Earle has received instantaneous feedback from SuperDARN radar equipment, courtesy of a Blacksburg company, which has seemingly confirmed their simulations suggesting low frequency propagations to give long propagation paths in the eclipsed region.

The team is currently working on a presentation of findings for a meeting with the American Geophysical Union this December.

Thank you to the CollegiateTimes for this extract.

The ARRL Letter for 14 September carries news of the other two geophysical events of the last week. Hurricane Irma sowed death and destruction over Central Florida last weekend, and resulted in significant river flooding over most of the Florida peninsula. Millions were left without power. Thirty Florida counties were under mandatory evacuation orders, and thousands took advantage of Red Cross shelters.

SKYWARN nets activated in the West Central Florida Section and elsewhere to gather severe weather information, and Florida’s Statewide Amateur Radio Network conducted a coordination and assistance net to help communicate between the county EOCs and the State EOC and to provide assistance to Amateur Radio operators in other ways, time permitting. The priority during the weekend was tactical shelter communication, EOC communication, and SKYWARN nets as Hurricane Irma approached. “Once Irma was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, our focus shifted to collecting post-storm reports and handling emergency and priority traffic only,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said.

As if Earth’s weather was not bad enough already, an X-class solar flare at around [18h00 our time] on Sunday, September 10, hobbled the HF bands. The widespread communication blackout lasted for nearly 3 hours and “could not have happened at a worse time,” Graves said. “But,” he added, “we cannot control Mother Nature, only work around her.” Earlier solar flares had also affected HF propagation.

Greg Mossop G0DUB announced on Friday that “Mexican Radio Amateurs are activating again to deal with Hurricane Max which is due to hit the area of Guererra in the next few hours. They will be using 7060 and 14120 kHz for this storm and are also watching Tropical Storm 15-E, also known as Norma, which will move to the North of their country over the next few days.” So please keep away from 7060kHz and 14120kHz these next few days, until the all-clear is given.

Finally, the British “TX Factor” episode 18 launched yesterday, and is available for you to view, on their website, www.txfactor.co.uk. This episode covers the recent YOTA activity week in London, at which South Africa was represented, and a look at moonbounce, using the 32 metre dish at Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

Scouting Hamnet Members

This weekend 3 Hamnet members went to a Potjiekos Competition day that had 4×4 activities and a quarter mile drag strip. The reason we went was to see if we could have future field days there and also promote Hamnet as they had a smallish flea market. one Hamnet member was a marshal and tw took part in the 4×4 obstacle course. Gerhard Coetzee, ZS3TG, was the Marshal and the driver Dylan Walsh, ZS3DW, with co-driver (father) Roy Walsh, ZS3RW, took part in the 4×4 course.

 

Driver ZS3DW

Driver ZS3DW

IMG_4442 IMG_4465

HAMNET Report 10 September 2017

Well, more and more natural disaster news comes through. For the first time in recorded history, there were two hurricanes in close proximity to each other bearing down on the Caribbean with sustained wind-speeds of greater than 150mph (or 240kph). They are Irma and Jose, and, as I write this on Saturday afternoon, Irma is approaching Florida, and expected to move straight up Florida’s straight axis this evening, our time, having ravaged a lot of the Caribbean islands since Thursday.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on Thursday, the Dominican Republic had its population of 10.7 million in shelters as the hurricane churned overhead, Turks and Caicos experienced a storm surge of 6 metres on their low lying islands, Anguilla’s 17000 people reported significant structural damage and at least one death, St Barts suffered rooftops ripped off their houses, an electrical grid disruption, and rivers of debris flowing through streets. The dual nationality island of St Maarten/St Martin, suffered at least 8 deaths amongst its total population of 77000 people, Barbuda reported damage to 95% of all structures, and the death of a 2-year-old, but neighbouring island Antigua was less affected. And Haiti, which still hasn’t recovered from its previous hurricane Matthew damage in 2016, is being shored up as Hurricane Jose approaches.

Sadly, John ZS1JNT, tells me that friends of his on St Maarten island report widespread looting of the damaged boats there for anything sellable, and a supermarket opening its doors, letting the locals help themselves, to prevent further damage to their buildings by the looters.

The ARRL Bulletin dated 8 September says:

Please be aware that due to the breadth of this series of weather events, numerous emergency and public service nets are in session, especially on the 80, 40, and 20 meter bands. All stations should be aware that in a large-scale natural disaster, immediate threats to life and property can happen quickly. In order for Amateur Radio to play an effective role in supporting humanitarian efforts, it is key that all licensees cooperate to minimize potential on-air problems.

Amateurs should also be aware that the primary users on the 60-meter channels are using those channels extensively. Amateur stations, as secondary users, must ensure that their communications are conducted in such a manner to ensure that Federal government stations, as primary users, can have immediate use of any 60-meter channel. Amateurs, please make sure you are leaving adequate breaks between transmissions to allow the primary stations to use the frequency. If a primary user does break into an amateur contact on the frequency, the amateurs involved should immediately cease their transmissions.

At this time, it is ARRL’s understanding that only Amateur Radio Emergency or Amateur Radio Priority traffic is moving in and out of the affected areas. Amateur Radio Health and Welfare communications are being queued up for later delivery into the affected area, as the emergency and priority traffic eases.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) reports its frequency being used as of Saturday afternoon is 14.325 MHz, while the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) is operating on 14.265 MHz.

Meanwhile, a smaller category 2 hurricane, named Katia is hovering on the North coast of Southern Mexico, and Greg Mossop G0DUB notes:

The National Emergency Network of the Mexican National Society (FMRE) declared on September 8 that they would be using the following frequencies as they prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Katia.

20m 14.120 MHz
40m 7.060 MHz
80m 3.690 MHz

14.325 MHz was also expected to be used to co-ordinate with the USA Hurricane Watch Net.

And at least 61 people have died after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck off the Southern coast on Friday morning at 04h49 UTC.

The magnitude 8.1 quake, which was felt as far afield as Mexico City and Guatemala City, was registered off Mexico’s southern coast just as heavy rains from Hurricane Katia lashed the east. The epicentre was in the Pacific Ocean, some 1,000 kilometres southeast of the capital and 120 kilometres off the coast.

With the Earthquake hitting Mexico on Friday, we should assume that these frequencies are in use now as they respond to that disaster.

Various Winlink nodes may also be used to deal with the emergencies.

With HF propagation disturbed after the solar flare on Wednesday, Greg asks that we take all steps to avoid interference to emergency communications activities in the Caribbean.

To add insult to injury, a series of massive explosions on the Sun caused a radio network designed to warn people of the hurricanes in the Caribbean, to go on the fritz during the time period when it would have been issuing information about Hurricane Irma, both the manager of the network and a NOAA representative confirmed to Motherboard, whom we thank for these notes.

Solar flares like the ones reported this week are known to interfere with high frequency radio signals. “When that solar flare happens, it’s like static frying,” Bobby Graves, Net Manager for Hurricane Watch Net (HWN), told reporters over the phone. This group of licensed amateur radio operators, based across North and Central America and the Caribbean, works with the National Hurricane Centre to disseminate information about storms. When a solar flare happens, “it’s like they just turned the radio off,” Graves, who lives in Brandon, Mississippi, said.

Bob Rutledge, lead forecaster at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre, confirmed receiving “isolated” reports from the Caribbean about radio blackouts related to the series of solar flares observed on the Sun this week, including from HWN. “It’s truly a complete radio blackout,” Rutledge said. “The signal just can’t get through.”

HWN also gathers data from people on the ground and sends the information back to the NHC in Miami, according to Graves. He said that blackouts this week lasted from 20 minutes to up to four hours.

“It’s sad, knowing you’re trying to get the information out, or maybe someone out there is trying to talk back to you,” Graves told me. Radio operators have to wait out the solar storm, and “hopefully the people are still there when the frequency is recovered.”

Starting on September 4, a series of solar flares belched radiation and solar plasma at Earth—including three of the largest and most powerful types of solar flare, which are called X-class, Rutledge told Motherboard. Many more were M-class, a lower designation.

One was an X9.3 flare, the largest recorded in about a decade, according to NASA. NOAA’s space weather agency issued warnings for geomagnetic storms, which are major disturbances in our planet’s magnetosphere that can meddle with all kinds of technologies we rely on, including satellites, radio communications, and GPS signals. According to Graves, these storms make everything sound “gurgly,” like you’re talking “underwater.”

Just what the emergency networks in the Caribbean needed this week!

Let it not be said that we don’t live in interesting times…

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR Reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 3 September 2017

The World Wide Web this week has been flooded, if you’ll pardon my choice of words, by news of Hurricanes and Monsoon rains.

In Texas, one meteorologist estimated that by the time Hurricane Harvey subsides it will have dropped a mind-boggling 95 trillion litres of water across the state. Certain locations along the Gulf of Mexico are expected to see as much rain in a few short days as is typical in an entire year. Harvey has wrought havoc along the Texas Gulf Coast, just as meteorologists warned it would. The previous benchmark for flooding in an American city was Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which dumped 40 inches of rain on Houston in five days, killing nearly two dozen people and causing $5 billion in damage. Harvey delivered as much rain as Allison in roughly half the time

Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES®) volunteers have been pitching in to support communication at some Red Cross shelters in south Texas in the ongoing aftermath of catastrophic and unprecedented flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey, now a Tropical Depression. ARES members also have been serving as net control liaisons to the Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM). At mid-week, some 3 dozen volunteers were assisting at shelters. Another dozen were on tap to serve as OEM liaisons. ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, said the Red Cross is in need of Red Cross-trained shelter managers and volunteer management specialists.

A variety of emergency, health-and-welfare traffic, and tactical nets in south Texas have been active on HF at various times of the day as well as on a wide array of VHF and UHF repeaters, which remain available as needed. On August 31st, the National Hurricane Centre reported that flooding rains were continuing across far eastern Texas and western Louisiana, with heavy rainfall expected to spread north-eastward through the lower Mississippi Valley and into the Tennessee Valley over the next day or two. ARES volunteers are on standby in Louisiana.

Earlier this week, ARES team members were advised that the impact to the region’s communications infrastructure had been relatively minimal, considering the strength of the storm and the magnitude of the flooding. The storm did ravage cellular service in some Texas counties, however, especially Aransas (84%) and Refugio (73%) counties, the FCC reported. Overall, however, the FCC deemed the cellular system 95% functional.

ARRL South Texas Public Information Officer Mike Urich, KA5CVH, told ARRL on August 30th that “hardening” of the telecommunications infrastructure to make it more immune to storm damage had diminished the need for Amateur Radio communication support and altered hams’ traditional role there. Urich pointed out, however, that the Amateur Radio telecommunications infrastructure in South Texas has remained analogue, as “the lowest common denominator” of technology — VHF/UHF FM, and HF — and has the highest degree of interoperability. “That’s what we train to, that’s what we teach, that’s what we practice,” he said. Urich said the area’s extensive system of repeaters makes it possible for local radio amateurs to serve as “another set of eyes and ears” in spotting and reporting problems that may require official attention.

320, or 4%, of the 7,804 cell sites in the region were out of service, the WSJ reported. And although most cell towers have backup batteries, they only last about 8 hours, and if they’re flooded or their equipment is blown away, they’re toast.

On the government side, FEMA does have an app to push information about disaster preparedness, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the FCC is working to protect communications networks, monitoring outages, working with the Department of Homeland Security and state and local partners, and has activated the Disaster Information Reporting System.

Thank you to the ARRL and many American News agencies for these details.

Another Hurricane, this one called “Irma” is starting to be felt in the Atlantic and predictions forecast that this storm will be heading toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Meanwhile, across the globe, seasonal monsoon rain has inundated the Eastern side of India, with the major affected area being most of the Bihar state villages. National Coordinator for Disaster Communication in India, Jayu S. Bhide VU2JAU, reports that HAMS from East Bengal and Patna were in action passing messages during the flooding. 1300 deaths were reported and about 8 million people have been displaced. This kind of makes Hurricane Harvey seem mild, by comparison.

The emergency communications teams helped the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams. All HAMS assisted in controlling the communication on VHF mainly. The situation was brought under control, and the NDRF rescued most of the people identified by the HAMS in their message handling. The affected areas now mainly face a problem with drinking water as all the boring pumps are contaminated due to the flood. Fresh water and food packets are reaching the flood area. The monsoonal rain also affected neighbouring Bangladesh but no report on emergency communications from there has been provided.

Monsoon rains also hit early on Tuesday August 29 causing flooding in the Mumbai and Pune areas with immediate action by local HAMS helping out during the adverse weather. All traffic was disrupted, even local trains and buses were submerged and unable to move. Children stranded in a school were left hungry and the electricity also went off.

Satish Shah VU2SVS and Ankur Puranik VU2AXN and 50 HAMS involved arranging food and power for the school. The HAMs of Mumbai were in touch with each other, even those who don’t have a VHF transceiver. The ‘ZELLO app’ was used to connect those without suitable radio equipment to interface with a VHF HAM radio frequency. Many workers were stranded in their offices or at railway stations until midnight. Looking after the central railway in Mumbai were the Bharat Scouts & Guides that had undergone previous disaster communication training. The recent rain is likely to remain for a while, with schools and offices closed. All the HAMS are kept on alert by government and local bodies should their communications be needed

– Jim Linton VK3PC, Chairman IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee with Jayu S. Bhide VU2JAU National Coordinator for Disaster Communication in India.

As the saying goes “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink!”

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.