HAMNET Report 21 January 2018

Tropical Cyclone Berguitta-18 has been moving South-West all week, missing Madagascar, but pummelling Reunion and Mauritius, and other small French Islands to the East of Madagascar. The FaceBook page entitled “Mauritius Cyclone Updates” has some vivid video of ravines and rivers coming down in torrential flood, threatening to wash bridges and properties away. There has not been much news in the press of damage or loss of life, and Saturday’s reports say that Berguitta had weakened into a moderate tropical storm by Friday evening. Presumably the flooding will take a week or so to subside. HAMNET is not aware of any emergency traffic being passed from that area.

Meanwhile a tropical depression has been present in the Mozambique channel for the last few days, but does not seem to be moving Southwards, so stormy conditions in Mozambique or over the North-East of South Africa have not been experienced. We’ll keep our eye on that one.

Arrangements are being made with the Western Cape HAMNET Division, for the two sporting events soon to happen in the Cape. The 99er Cycle Tour takes place on Saturday 10th February, where at least 16 of our volunteers will do their stuff along the way. Plans are at an advanced stage for that one. And I have been contacted by the organisers of the Two Ocean’s Marathon, on Easter Saturday, to start the wheels turning amongst the HAMNET operators who are already starting to volunteer for that. If you are a Western Cape HAMNET Member, and would like to assist us, please contact the writer at ZS1DFR@TELKOMSA.NET. Thank you.

From the ARRL letter of this week is the news that uncharacteristically cold weather in central Florida in early January prompted members of the North Brevard Amateur Radio Club (K4NBR) to assist the area’s homeless population. The New Year began with a bitter cold front descending upon central Florida, bringing below-freezing temperatures, especially concerning for those lacking regular shelter from the elements. NBARC members Ricky Deluco, K4JTT; Robert Ortiz, KJ4VEH; William Klosowski, K4SVT, and Michael Ellixson, KE4MWZ, set out in their own vehicles, searching the city of Titusville for homeless residents. For the next two evenings, and using Amateur Radio as communications, the group worked in the cold, wet weather for more than 12 hours, logging some 190 Km on the roads around Titusville.

The Disabled American Veteran Centre in Titusville had opened its doors as a cold weather shelter and offered a warm place to sleep and eat. The ham radio group alerted local law enforcement, so they were aware of the effort, and in the hope that on-duty officers might also reach out. The group was able to locate five homeless individuals on its first evening tour of the town and provide them with transportation out of the cold. Local police also contacted the team to help and to provide transportation for other homeless individuals located by on-duty officers.

One additional homeless person located late on the first night had a need for immediate medical attention and was transported to a local hospital. — Thanks to Ricky Deluco, K4JTT

From the same source, we are told that a November 2017 Department of Defence (DoD)-sponsored communications interoperability exercise involving Amateur Radio was a success, according to information received from US Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY. The November 4-6 drill, which focused on interoperability between DoD elements including MARS, other federal agencies, and the Amateur Radio community, simulated a coronal mass ejection (CME) event. Army and Air Force MARS organizations worked in conjunction with the Amateur Radio community, primarily on the 60-meter interoperability channels as well as on HF NVIS frequencies and local VHF and UHF, non-internet linked Amateur Radio repeaters.

The Amateur Radio portion of the exercise kicked off with a high-power information broadcast on 60-meter channel 1 (5,330.5 kHz) from a military station on the east coast and the Fort Huachuca HF gateway station in Arizona. The high-power broadcast provided basic exercise information and requested that amateur stations make contact with MARS stations on 60 meters and provide county-by-county status reports for the 3,143 US counties and county equivalents, in order to gain situational awareness and to determine the extent of impact of the scenario. Radio amateurs also were given the opportunity to submit a reception report and receive a QSL card.

“Leaders from the supported DoD headquarters as well as the chiefs of both the Army and Air Force MARS programs appreciated the nearly 2,000 Amateur Radio stations that trained during this exercise,” English said. — Thanks to US Army MARS Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY, and The ARRL ARES E-Letter.

Exciting news comes from Mars, the planet, where the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) investigated eight steep and eroded slopes (known as “scarps”) at various locations across Mars. At each of these locations, they found thick shelves of relatively pure water ice located as little as 1 meter below the planet’s surface. Furthermore, some of these massive ice deposits were found to be more than 100 meters thick.

According to the research paper, “The ice exposed by the scarps likely originated as snow that transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 [metres] of dry and ice-cemented dust or regolith near ±55° latitude.” In 2008, the Phoenix Mars Lander discovered similar ice deposits along Martian scarps, but they were found in regions much closer to the planet’s northern pole.

The discovery of these large reservoirs of pure water ice adds yet another piece of evidence supporting the increasingly held theory that water ice not only exists on Mars, but also is surprisingly common. Although the ice could obviously be used as a source of water for future manned missions to Mars, scientists have a long way to go before then. However, with the Mars 2020 rover just a few years away, the discovery of eight more tantalizing sites ripe for investigation is still an exciting find.

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

HAMNET Report 14 January 2018

Tropical Cyclone Ava passed through Madagascar on Friday and Saturday of last week, hitting mostly the Eastern coast of the island with wind speeds of between 140-190 kph.

“The provisional report of cyclone Ava hitting Madagascar, (shows) 29 people were killed,” Melisa Venance, communications officer of the National Office of Risk and Disaster Management, said.

The administrative region of Haute Matsiatra, located 400 km  South of Antananarivo, said that among those killed were eight people from a family who had been at a funeral vigil on Sunday when their house was hit by a landslide.

“The bodies were searched for all night, and the corpses of eight people, including an 11-month-old baby, and the body of the deceased person were found under rubble on Monday morning,” the post said.

The National Office of Risk and Disaster Management had earlier on Monday put the dead at at least six, and that more than 13,000 people were displaced by the cyclone, while more than 16,000 pupils had classes suspended until Thursday, due to flooding and risk of landslides.

Meanwhile, as AVA has drifted away in a South-Easterly direction, Tropical Cyclone SIX-18, has formed East of Madagascar, and is not threatening the island country yet. It may in fact drift South and miss Madagascar completely. Maximum windspeeds are estimated at 176kph.

Tom Morgan, ZS1AFS/G0CAJ, reports in Southgate Amateur Radio News that many rare DX operations are by hams who are working in that ‘needed’ location – and giving contacts is secondary to the reason the operator is in that far-flung spot. So, operation is limited.

It is very rare that an operator has to go QRT because he or she is in a life-threatening situation. One in which fuel and food are in short supply, happened recently on Marion Island.

With fuel restricted to essential purposes, ham operation ceased in November. There is doubt whether ZS8Z will be on the air again before the South African ship arrives in April 2018 for the changeover.

Fortunately, an Indian relief ship was found that was able to take supplies and is in passage with food and fuel. The fuel is for the one remaining operational generator – two are in need of maintenance and repair.

At the American Astronomy Society’s meetings this week, the intriguing matter of Fast Radio Bursts was discussed. Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, are brief, bright flashes of radio energy from extragalactic sources. They are hard to study because they’re so short and they don’t repeat, except for one. The Repeater, as it’s known, offers a window into the nature of these objects because it repeats, allowing for multiple and higher-precision measurements of this source. It has, for example, allowed astronomers to pin down its location to a dwarf galaxy over 3 billion light-years away. It’s also sitting conveniently close to a source of persistent radio emission.

Based on the duration of the bursts, some of which are only about 30 microseconds, the source itself must be small — only about 10 kilometres across, which is conveniently the size of a neutron star (which was already the likeliest candidate). It was learned that the polarization of the signal is extremely “twisted,” which may hold clues about its environment, which must have strong magnetic fields responsible for twisting it in the first place. The persistent radio source near the burster is also a likely clue. Currently, the best theories state that this Repeater is likely a neutron star bursting from either the region very near its galaxy’s supermassive black hole, or from within its own extremely bright, young nebula. These ideas still remain theories, but within the next few years, we may finally begin getting some answers as more FRB’s are recorded and more is learned about their origins and environments. In response to a question, it was noted that FRB121102 is the only repeating burst, and that it perhaps doesn’t represent the rest of the class of FRBs. It’s still hard to tell, and only more data and more discoveries will hold the answers.

Fortunately, astronomers estimate that about 10,000 of these go off every day, resulting in one about every 10 seconds. As radio telescopes become better able to catch these events, those answers may be just on the horizon.

Perhaps it’s someone out there trying to teach us superfast morse code! Thank you to the AAS for these notes.

The HAMNET Duty Logistics Manager has been busy round and about Table Mountain this week. From Monday morning until Saturday evening, eight rescues were logged, and needed some help from HAMNET. Of course, SANParks rangers, Mountain Club of SA rescuers and the Off-Road Rescue Club were also involved, so it was always a combined effort. Thank you to all who volunteer.

As of the beginning of this week, the Cape dams stood at 29.7% full. A small amount of rain fell last Sunday the 7th, perhaps 5mm in the suburbs, not enough to do anything for the dams. The community in Cape Town is pre-occupied with one mission – to acquire a rainwater tank to catch every last drop of rain or dew that might fall. In that there’s not much rain about, it is going to take a long time to fill all these tanks! Professional water-tank suppliers are having a very good season, and the rest of us are rigging up all sorts of Heath-Robinson devices to get the water from the gutters into the tanks. It’s all quite fun, actually! We have all developed a very healthy respect for that stream of water coming out of our taps, and are catching every wasted drop possible.

And, from your writer’s point of view, a new medical condition has sprung up in Cape Town. It has been termed “bucket-carrier’s elbow”, like tennis elbow, and just as painful, but  can be acquired without ever having played tennis! I wonder whether I should write it up in a medical journal somewhere!

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

HAMNET Report 7 January 2018

May I begin by wishing you all a very happy amateur radio year. May all your signals remain 5 and 9 plus 20, and may all your endeavours to improve your communications skills meet with success! I promise to do my best to keep you informed of matters important to us all, provided you promise to keep tuning in!

Greg Mossop G0DUB, in his New Year’s message says “As 2017 ends I would like to thank all of you, and your families, for your support this year.

“We were ready to respond to events like the wildfires in Portugal, and severe weather events passing over our region such as snow damage in Slovenia. There have also been more National exercises and tests like a successful EmcomSET in Spain, Vapepa in Finland and many more I only see afterwards because I look at your websites or magazines.

“We had a fairly successful IARU Region 1 Triennial conference in September. A request to recognise emergency communications in the new 5MHz band was approved though this does not yet appear on the website. The request for information about frequency usage above 148MHz did not want to know about Emergency Communications now, but I still do not think that this is right and I will produce some information for the IARU separately from the IARU-R1 VHF committee work, as some of them seem to think we concentrate on HF, and ignore all the good work we do on the VHF/UHF bands.

“I was pleased and surprised to receive the Region 1 medal for contributions to Emergency Communications, but this is in recognition of all your work too. Our part of the hobby is absolutely a team effort !

“There is still more to do. We may not live in a region affected by storms in the same way as the Caribbean, but our energy and communications systems are so interconnected, that a problem in one country can soon spread over a wider area.

“I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the next meeting of Emergency Communications Co-Ordinators in Friedrichshafen at HamRadio 2018 on 1st June, and I hope you all have a happy and healthy 2018.” End quotation.

Thank you, Greg, and the same to you and the IARU Region 1 Community, from all of us in South Africa.

One thing we always keep a close eye on is weather, and so I immediately bring to your attention the tropical storm driving down the East Coast of Madagascar. It has been on the “radar” so to speak, since the beginning of the week. With windspeeds of 176kph at maximum, Tropical Storm Ava-18 is expected to affect about 1.3 million people. Luckily, it is sticking to the Eastern Coast, so inland areas haven’t been badly affected yet. Red Cross disaster response teams are readying response plans in anticipation of the cyclone’s landfall.

Right now, our major concern is flooding as a result of the expected heavy rains. We’ve activated our national disaster response team, and Red Cross volunteers in all the districts are on high alert,” said Izaka Harizaka, acting Secretary General, Malagasy Red Cross.

In the event of a disaster, the Red Cross will be able to immediately draw on pre-positioned emergency supplies for 500 families, and plans are under way to top up these stocks with additional relief supplies.

Madagascar is regularly hit by cyclones. In March 2017, Tropical Cyclone Enawo hit the island, claiming dozens of lives and displacing tens of thousands. It was the strongest storm to hit the island nation in more than a decade. In response, the Malagasy Red Cross mobilized 24 disaster response teams alongside nearly 900 volunteers.

HAMNET asks all HF monitoring stations to keep their ears open for emergency traffic on 3760kHz, 7110kHz LSB, and 10.130Mhz and 14.245Mhz USB, and be prepared to react if their reception is better than anyone else’s. I’ll keep you posted of as much information as is available.

And while Madagascar is getting too much rain, the Western Cape isn’t. Dam levels stand at 31% full, and at 13.5%, the taps will be switched off, and we will try to get by on 25 litres per person per day, fetched from a tank truck each day. The logistics of this seem enormous. There will be 200 watering points, and 4 million people will have to be catered for at these points per day. That’s water for 20 000 people per water point per day, 500 000 litres per point per day, and, in some way, the authorities will have to keep track of all who have already collected water, to prevent illegal schemes from hijacking the system! Difficult times indeed.

Hamnet notes with regret the recent decision by Sam Maree ZS1SAM to step down from the Maritime Mobile Net, for which he has mostly been responsible, monitoring yachts coming down the coast of Southern Africa, and conveying messages and weather reports in both directions. The older radio amateurs will remember the original work of the late great Alistair Campbell, as well as Graham Griggs, ZS2ABK, who still helps to run the net. A lot of other radio stations up and down the coasts have assisted and will continue to assist, and we say a huge thank you to Sam, for all the work he has put in to the system in the last ten years. We hope a replacement formal control station can soon be identified, to take over the reins, as Graham has also had a very long innings, and cannot run the net unaided, and forever.

Hamnet has also been involved in both the fatal climbing incidents in the Western Cape this week. David ZS1DAV was duty Logistics Manager during the Table Mountain incident, and was aided by ZS1GS Grant, and ZS1SA Rob, during the overnight rescue of the surviving lady abseiler and retrieval of the male guide and lady climber’s bodies after they fell to their deaths on Monday night/Tuesday morning, just below the cable station.

And, on Wednesday, David again supervised the logistics needed to retrieve the 17 year old who fell and died on the Helderberg Mountain. This time, he was assisted by ZS1KP, Dean. Altogether a sad start to the climbing year in the Western Cape.

But a huge shout out to the two 12-year old friends, Mokoni and Evert, who climbed in and helped rescue trapped passengers at the scene of the tragic train accident outside Kroonstad on Thursday. With youngsters like these in the country, the future looks good!

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