Inside a small, rectangular room at the University of Washington is a series of shelves filled with more than 300 high-tech tools. There’s a collection of drones, cameras, and tablets, and even a mobile EEG kit, able to measure a brain’s electrical activity and detect stress levels in disaster victims. Each one has been meticulously organized, labelled, and packed away in a protective case, ready to be sent hundreds or even thousands of miles to the next natural disaster.
This is one of the three rooms that make up the RAPID Facility in Seattle, a first-of-its-kind centre pushing the boundaries on natural disaster research, along with the world’s ability to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of these hazards.
At a time when extreme weather, such as hurricanes and wildfires, is having a major impact on our daily lives, gaining this type of information is becoming especially vital, says Joseph Wartman, director of the RAPID Facility and geologic hazards professor at the University of Washington. In 2018, these types of hazards resulted in 247 deaths and almost $100 billion in damage in the U.S. Globally, natural hazards resulted in $330 billion in global losses in 2017, up from $200 billion in 2014. Wartman said there does appear to be a trend toward more frequent weather-related disasters, as well as an uptick in their intensity, so it’s very important to understand these hazards better.
Launched in September through a National Science Foundation grant, the centre–officially called the Natural Hazards Reconnaissance Experimental Facility–acts as a type of natural disaster research hub. Entities across the world reach out when hazards strike (occasionally right before, if there’s any type of warning), and the small team ships them equipment to use temporarily, travels out to the site to operate the tools themselves, or actually collects and processes the data for them.
The facility has already been instrumental in research following hurricanes Michael and Florence, earthquakes in Japan and Indonesia, and large landslides in Alaska and Oregon. In each case, the team of about a dozen researchers has facilitated the collection of huge swaths of data of the disaster zone during the crucial period before serious clean-up begins. They then organize this evidence into comprehensive tables or transform it into point clouds, 3D visualizations of a scene made up of a large number of individual points, or even Google-type streetview images.
But no matter how they process this data, they make a point of always sharing it online.
“Whatever we collect goes up to a public repository very quickly, and then researchers from around the world can use that,” said Wartman. “Let people not only use it, but let them dream up new uses for this data. It’s a public asset after we use it.”
With this type of data and sharing, the entire scientific community has already started to gain extremely precise information about what actually takes place when these hazards strike. That can be very helpful when it comes to reworking or building new predictive models that help anticipate the type of damage and effects on communities resulting from each natural disaster.
“What we’re trying to do is anticipate and ultimately be able better to forecast hazards, because if we can do that then we can begin to understand where our weak points are and take measures to reduce the risk and increase resilience,” said Wartman.
The facility is expected to continue to help boost natural disaster research for at least a few more years. It’s running on a five-year contract from the National Science Foundation, along with about $5 million in funding from the agency.
Thank you to Fast Company for these extracts from their article.
An insert in the Weekly ARRL Letter for 28 February says that Alex Schwarz, VE7DXW, in British Columbia, Canada, is exploring the possibility that “RF signatures” detected by the RF Seismograph propagation tool could also be indicating earthquakes, and may even be able to predict them shortly before they occur. A real-time HF propagation-monitoring tool developed by Schwarz and the MDSR team, the RF Seismograph shows both band noise and activity or band activity alone on six HF bands. It’s a project of the North Shore Amateur Radio Club (NSARC).
“We had been doing the solar eclipse experiment, and we developed the RF Seismograph software to look for changes in propagation during the eclipse,” Schwarz explained. “After the eclipse, we decided to leave the RF Seismograph running, and we have now collected 4 years of data.”
The system uses an omnidirectional multiband antenna to monitor JT-65 frequencies (±10 kHz) on 80, 40, 30, 20, 15, and 10 meters. Recorders monitor the background noise and display the result in six colour-coded, long-duration graphs displaying 6 hours of scans. When signals are present on a band, its graph trace starts to resemble a series of vertical bars.
Most recently, the RF Seismograph recorded the magnitude 7.5 earthquake in Ecuador on February 22. Schwarz recounted that noise on 15 meters began to be visible about 1 hour before the quake; then, 2 hours after the quake released, 15 meters started to recover. The US Geological Survey said the quake was about 82 miles below ground. It did not affect 80 meters. Schwarz speculated that the quake was easy to see on the RF Seismograph because 15 meters typically is not open during hours of darkness — especially when the solar flux is only 70.
Following a magnitude 5.0 earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island, his RF Seismograph picked up changes. Canada’s government-run Earthquakes Canada was able to provide Schwarz with a list of magnitude 6.0 or greater events since the RF Seismograph went into operation, and the two teams have been collaborating to find a correlation between HF propagation anomalies and earthquakes. With the measurements, Schwarz has been attempting to find a correlation between the list of past geological events and what his RF Seismograph may have sensed on those occasions.
“The earthquakes show up as RF noise because of the electric field lines, now scientifically confirmed to change the way the ionosphere reflects RF,” Schwarz said.
Schwarz said 171 earthquakes — all magnitude 6.0 events or greater — were studied, and only 15 of them had no RF noise associated with them. In 26 cases, the time of the disturbance detected by the RF Seismograph failed to match the USGS-reported time of the quake. Schwarz said that in 72% of the earthquake studies, the RF Seismograph was able to detect an increase in noise on 80 meters, typically before and after the event.
One would certainly not expect earthquakes to show up in RF band noise and activity charts!
This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.