HAMNET Report 25th July 2021

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System is reporting on two tropical Cyclones threatening Japan and China this week.

Tropical Cyclone CEMPAKA, with wind speeds up to 140km/h was active in the North West Pacific, threatening more than 2 million people along the coast of China on Thursday. Twelve deaths had been reported and 100 000 people displaced in Zhengzhou City. The highest rainfall since record-keeping began, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region, caused two dams to collapse, affecting 16000 people.

This cyclone is causing heavy rains in the Northern half of the Philippines too. Adding to their misery, they weathered a magnitude 6.8 earthquake along their Western coastline on Friday at about 11pm our time. It occurred at a depth of 100km, but exposed nearly 13 million people to injury within a 100km radius. It comes as no surprise then that their prominent Taal volcano is at alert level 3, defined as “restive magmatic activities”, and that the volcano area measured 95 volcano earthquake activities on Friday. Nearly 15000 people have had to move away and take shelter elsewhere.

And Tropical Cyclone IN-FA, with wind speeds up to 176 km/h was bearing down on Japan and thereafter the coast of China, threatening 11.5 million people at much the same time. Red warnings were issued for high waves and moderate rainfall in the Ryukyu Islands in Southern Japan.

Severe weather was also reported in Pakistan and India, where monsoon rains caused flash floods, casualties and damage, as well as in Iran, where heavy rainfall has been experienced in the last week, causing flash flooding, casualties and damage to buildings. Search and rescue operations are ongoing. The same is true of the Indonesian part of the Island of Borneo, where 27000 people were affected, and 15000 buildings damaged by heavy rainfall since the 13th July, with more rain still to come.

And this is all over and above the devastation across Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland in the last week. The missing people of Germany are not all accounted for yet.

Meanwhile South Africa has had its coldest spell this winter so far, with 19 low temperature records in parts of the country surpassed on Thursday and Friday nights. You asked for snow this winter? You’ve got it!

The National Weather Service in the US plans to communicate the severity and potential impacts from severe thunderstorm wind and hail better by adding a “damage threat” tag to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings starting on July 28th, 2021. Severe Thunderstorms deemed “destructive” will activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones, says Spencer Denton, writing in Action News 5.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are short emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public alerting authorities that can be broadcast from cell towers to any WEA‐enabled mobile device in a locally targeted area. Wireless providers primarily use cell broadcast technology for WEA message delivery. WEA is a partnership among FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wireless providers to enhance public safety.

WEAs can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm’s way, without the need to download an app or subscribe to a service. WEAs are messages that warn the public of an impending natural or human-made disaster. The messages are short and can provide immediate, life-saving information.

HAMNET members in South Africa were treated to a very interesting lecture on a virtual platform, given by Peter Myers, of SmithMyersCommunications in Scotland, on Wednesday evening. Mr Myers described their “Artemis” system, which allows rescuers to poll any or specific cell phones that may be in a search area, and pinpoint their position, either by using their GPS transmissions, or by triangulation. Radio equipment installed in Leonardo rescue helicopters acts like a cell tower, which is recognized by cell phones of unresponsive victims after an accident or natural disaster, and responded to automatically by the cell phone. These pings trigger the system in the helicopter, which progressively narrows down the search area as it flies within 35km of the phone, until searchlights or infra-red cameras on the helicopter can spot the victim.

The system in the helicopter is used where there are few or no cell phone towers in the search area. In an urban area, there are enough cell towers usually to be able to pinpoint the location of a victim and his phone by triangulation without assistance.

So your smartphone will become your rescue aid, even if you are unable to speak to use it, for whatever reason, and this kind of technology, in an ideal world, should be fitted to all search and rescue aircraft initially and perhaps to sea rescue craft too.

The equipment shown in the lecture fits inside a medium Pelican case, and needs external antennas in the cell phone frequency bands.

Thank you to Ian ZS1OSK and Michael ZS1MJT for facilitating this talk on a virtual platform for us.

Those of you with the letters “CW” for Continuous Wave, or Morse Code, embossed on your hearts will be happy to hear that the Indian Express newspaper reports Police in Pune are keeping Morse code as a robust stand-by communications mode.

The report says that in the era of satellite communication, which involves transmitting signals into space and back, and internet based systems transferring gigabytes of data in a flash, police have kept alive the age-old system of Morse Code – a primitive but effective method of sending messages in the form of dots and dashes.

Every Sunday, an operator with Pune Police’s wireless wing sends a Morse Code message to the office of the Director General of Police, Maharashtra. While this is their way of paying tribute to one of the earliest modes of telecommunication, it is primarily a way of maintaining a robust stand-by mode of message delivery in case all other means of communication fail.

Pune City police have recently started a series of tweets featuring the communication systems used by the police and their evolution till date. On Sunday, Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta tweeted, “As an ode to the beginning of wireless communications, the Commissioner’s Office still uses Morse Code to transmit Messages every Sunday.”

This is news that gives one a good feeling, in a world and country full of drama, weather and illness. To borrow an expression: “May the Morse be with you!”

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

HAMNET Report 18th July 2021

India and Europe have both suffered severe rain storms this week, with flooding, destruction of houses, and some loss of life.

In India, on 12-13th July, heavy rain caused floods, mudslides and landslides in Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand (northern India), resulting in casualties.

In Himachal Pradesh, the Indian Disaster Management Division (NDMIndia) reports three fatalities, and up to eight people missing after a number of landslides occurred in Boh Valley and Kangra District. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing as national disaster response teams have been mobilized to the area. In addition, several houses have been damaged by floodwaters of the Manjhi River in Dharamshala City.

On 14-16th July, heavy to very heavy rain was forecast over Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Greg Mossop G0DUB IARU Region One EmComm Coordinator has reported that unprecedented heavy rain caused widespread flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with over 120 deaths and hundreds more people unaccounted for. The rains which started on Wednesday caused rivers to burst their banks and the water converged into major rivers like the Meuse, Mosel and Rhine causing damage to bridges and other infrastructure such as power and telecommunications networks.

The Dutch Amateur Radio Emergency Service (DARES) was on standby from Wednesday evening as the first reports of flooding came in, with an initial attempt to establish a point to point link from the Provincial capital of Maastricht to the north of Limburg province; this was halted due to heavy traffic as citizens followed calls to evacuate low lying areas. DARES members were in contact with members of the Belgian Emergency Amateur Radio Service (B-EARS) to co-operate and co-ordinate their work.

The European Civil Protection mechanism was activated and emergency groups across the region reported their Governments sending extra assistance and supplies to the areas where damage was worst. The surge in flood water was continuing to make its way North leading to further evacuations and the Radio Amateur Emergency groups started to get more focused requests with B-EARS being asked to provide a backup VHF link between the emergency call centre in Brussels and the province of Hainaut through Friday while DARES had four stations active in the Limburg area ready to respond if an issue occurred.

The most loss of life and damage has occurred in Germany where over 1000 people remain unaccounted for and the loss of mobile networks has slowed the effort to locate people while many others are without power or homes. The emergency communications unit of the DARC is handling enquiries for amateur radio support in the worst hit areas but this is not always easy to achieve as members in the area have been directly affected losing equipment or their homes.

Emergency communications groups in the affected, and surrounding countries, are ready to respond to requests made and are working well together, co-ordinating their response as needed. This emergency will last for some time as infrastructure is repaired and the threat from damaged dams and more rainfall is reducing.

In the light of this week’s civil unrest in this country, it is appropriate to mention that, over the past three decades, there has been significant growth in the body of research into the effects of relative overexposure to news, particularly negative news. And the past 18 months since the onset of the Covid pandemic, as well as varying levels of civil unrest have resulted in further studies looking at that impact in an era where society has even more exposure, due to a combination of the 24-hour television news cycle, and the doom-scrolling of news and images on social media.

According to one such study, published in November 2020, authored by professors from the Universities of Arkansas and Purdue in the US,  “psychological distress may impede a person’s ability to cope with the many life changes Covid-19 has required, such as fewer social interactions and physical distancing or quarantining. Additionally, work productivity or caregiving needs may be neglected when psychological distress is present… there is also a need to empirically examine the social conditions relating to the pandemic, such as increased news coverage and news consumption that may be related to increased psychological distress.”

They continue: “During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective.” Admittedly, there is no denying that such advice may bear resonance only for those who are not directly affected. A regular exercise and sleep routine is not a simple matter for residents living in townships and suburbs that are directly affected by violence and looting.

However, beyond the thought-out articles published by reputable news sources, the studies suggest that it is important to develop a personal strategy with regards to the consumption of the constant loop of violent imagery, especially on social media. Perhaps as per the World Health Organization’s guideline on Covid related news, “seek information only from trusted sources…Seek information updates at specific times [only] during the day, once or twice.”

Thank you to Malibongwe Tyilo and Maverick Life for these excerpts from his article.

Finally, according to Phys.org on Friday, the Hubble Space Telescope should be back in action soon, following a tricky, remote repair job by NASA.

The orbiting observatory went dark in mid-June, with all astronomical viewing halted.

NASA initially suspected a 1980s-era computer as the source of the problem. But after the backup payload computer also failed, flight controllers at Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Centre focused on the science instruments’ bigger and more encompassing command and data unit, installed by spacewalking astronauts in 2009.

Engineers successfully switched back to the previous backup equipment on Thursday, and the crucial payload computer kicked in. NASA said on Friday that science observations should resume quickly, if everything goes well.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations of the universe. NASA launched five repair missions to the telescope during the space shuttle program. The final tune-up was in 2009.

NASA plans to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, by year’s end.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.

I wonder how many people know who James Webb was..

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

HAMNET Report 11th July 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Australia’s ABC News has an excellent article on the benefits of amateur radio in old age – which says:

[Amateur Radio] comes with all the benefits of social media but without ‘any of the downsides’ — and one of Australia’s oldest ham radio enthusiasts says it is also the perfect hobby for retirees looking to stay mentally sharp.

West Australian-based Norman Gomm took to ham radio over forty years ago and now aged 82 has no intention of signing off just yet.

As one of Australia’s estimated 10,500 licensed ham radio operators, Mr Gomm is also the president of the Bunbury Radio Club. He says it is rare that a day goes by without him spending at least a couple of hours in his purpose-built ‘ham shack’.

“I find it’s very good for me,” Mr Gomm told the ABC amid a dazzling display of flashing lights and crackling radio static. “I’m 82 years of age and you need to keep your mind working actively all the time,” he said.

“Ham radio requires a lot of cognitive skills and a lot of understanding technology, so I find that’s very good for keeping me active.”

Operating under the call sign of Victor Kilo Six Golf Oscar Mike, Mr Gomm is able to converse with fellow ham radio enthusiasts “in just about any country on earth” depending on the time of day using an internationally recognised phonetic alphabet.

“We’re bound by regulation not to say naughty things over the radio waves. and we have a code of conduct which makes us behave relatively politely to each other,” Mr Gomm said. “It’s just a general ethic among ham radio people that you behave well to each other. “So it’s got all the plusses of social media and none of the downsides.”

And the topic mostly discussed among ham radio operators? “The weather mainly,” Mr Gomm said, with a dry laugh.

“On the international frequencies, the conversation tends to be a bit limited so we stick to topics like the weather and discussing equipment, but the thrill of it lies in making contact with someone on the other side of the planet.”

Thanks to Graham VK4BB for that information.

For those of you obsessed, like me, with time and its progression, ScienceNews reports this week that an atomic clock that could transform deep-space travel has successfully completed its first test run in space.

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock, which launched on a satellite in June 2019, outperformed all other clocks in space during its first year in orbit around Earth. The clock, DSAC for short, was at least 10 times more stable than clocks on GPS satellites, which makes it reliable enough for futuristic space navigation schemes, researchers report online June 30th in Nature.

To navigate the solar system today, space probes listen for signals from antennas on Earth and then bounce those signals back. Ultraprecise, refrigerator-sized atomic clocks on the ground measure that round trip time — which can take hours — to pinpoint a spacecraft’s location.

A future spacecraft carrying a toaster oven–sized DSAC could simply measure how long it takes a signal from Earth to arrive and calculate its own position. Untethering deep-space navigation from Earth could someday enable self-driving spaceships or GPS-like navigation systems on other planets.

DSAC is so stable because it keeps time using electrically charged atoms, or ions, rather than neutral atoms, says Eric Burt, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Bottling ions within electric fields prevents those atoms from bumping into the walls of their container. Such interactions cause the neutral atoms in GPS satellite clocks to lose their rhythm.

By comparing DSAC with the U.S. Naval Observatory’s hydrogen maser “master clock” on the ground, the researchers found that the space clock drifted about 26 picoseconds, or trillionths of a second, over the course of a day. That’s comparable to ground-based atomic clocks currently used for deep-space navigation, says DSAC principal investigator Todd Ely, also at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Reporting on how science museums reinvented themselves to survive the pandemic, Emily Anthes says that, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spiral out of control in March 2020, science museums around the world were abruptly forced to close. In a matter of days, ticket revenue vanished. “It was an existential crisis,” says Christofer Nelson, president and CEO of the Association of Science and Technology Centres, or ASTC, in Washington, D.C. “The fundamental business, operational, staffing, and community service model of these organizations just went away overnight. And the question was ‘What do we do next?’ ”

The weeks and months that followed were excruciatingly difficult for science museums, which lost more than $600 million in revenue in just the first six months of the pandemic, the ASTC estimates. Many museums and science centres were forced to adopt deep cost-cutting measures; some laying off more than half of their employees.

Few science museums had substantial endowments to pull from, so they scrambled for support. They launched new campaigns for donations, applied for government loans and sought grants and support from community organizations or corporations.

As they tried to make ends meet, they also realized they had to reinvent their programmes if they wanted to survive. Over the last year, they have launched a diverse array of exhibits and offerings that are not tied to their physical buildings, and they have helped educate the public about COVID-19. Some museums have even found creative ways to meet serious community needs, providing everything from child care to fresh food.

Along the way, these institutions have redefined what modern science museums can be and how they engage with the world beyond their walls. Though many museums are in various phases of reopening, their experience over the last year may leave a lasting legacy.

Emily goes on to describe a wide variety of ways in which museums have taken themselves to the public, rather than the other way round, in an effort to keep themselves relevant, and to guarantee a future, a future when we hope there will be no more levels of lockdown and social isolation.

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

HAMNET Report 4th July 2021

We’ve heard again from Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Regional Director for HAMNET KZN, who tells me that 12 Hamnet KZN members provided communications from key vantage points along the coast for the 46Km Scottburgh to Brighton Sand and Surf Marathon on 26th June 2021, which saw 52 Single ski’s, 34 Doubles, 1 Triple and 48 runners taking part.

Race Control was situated at the QTH of Steve ZS5SH overlooking the beach, and operated by Duncan ZS5DGR and Jitesh ZS5JM.  Keith ZS5WFD was based at the finish at Brighton Beach.

Weather conditions were absolutely perfect with a moderate South Westerly and manageable surf conditions.  The South Coast had been in the grip of the sardine run with sharks having been sighted close inshore at Amanzimtoti the previous day, but fortunately no problems were encountered during the race.

Communications were maintained between positions on 145.550 MHz Simplex and no problems were encountered on 2 metres.

Eight Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB’s) accompanying the various batches of ski’s had vhf portables on S.A. Lifesaving’s commercial frequency which proved to be a challenge, what with engine noise, batteries not holding charge and limited range, to the extent that we only managed to establish contact with 4 of them.  This will be addressed before next year’s event.

Troy ZS5TWJ at Toti main beach encountered some problems with local law enforcement and had to make hurried arrangements to obtain a beach permit, or his vehicle was going to be fined and towed.  Fortunately, this was resolved.  Due to changing surf conditions the compulsory check in was waived as skis were being smashed when trying to re-launch, so keeping a tally proved difficult. Troy also noted that a number of competitors who had checked in were not on the original organisers race sheet.  This was of concern to us as it could have resulted in a possible search being launched for competitors who were “unaccounted for”.

All’s well that ends well and Keith was pleased to report that all competitors were reconciled against those that had actually started, withdrawals, and those that finished.

Keith conveys his thanks to the members that gave of their time to assist.  He notes that, with the country back to Level 4 Lockdown, it may be some time until their next event!

Thanks for the report Keith. You were lucky to get that race in before lockdown.

The ARRL letter of Thursday July the 1st notes that the massive Duga-1 antenna array that transmitted the obnoxious and infuriating “Russian Woodpecker” HF signal from the 1970s until the late 1980s is now a cultural heritage site. The array, located near Chernobyl in Ukraine, was part of an over-the-horizon radar (OTH-R) system designed to detect and offer early warning of incoming ballistic missiles from the US. A complementary receiver site was located some 40 miles away. While the system was operating, its broad rat-a-tat signal, typically at a 10 Hz rate, caused severe interference in the amateur bands. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and the end of the Cold War preceded the end of the system and the interference it caused. NATO military intelligence discovered and photographed the structure, which it dubbed “Steel Yard.”

Nearly 2,300 feet long and more than 450 feet tall, the steel beams of the radar array are in the Chernobyl exclusion zone and tower above the surrounding forest. Seen from a distance, it appears to be a massive wall or the start of a cage. As Vice recently reported, the Association of Chernobyl Tour Operators was the first to announce that Ukraine had made Duga-1 a protected heritage site. The Russian Interfax news service later reported the official designation.

“Our heritage is not only the area around the power plant but also the buildings located on its territory,” Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, said in a Telegram thread about the announcement. “So now we are working on identifying other objects that should be part of the list of monuments. Our goal is to prevent destruction where possible.”

The Soviet Union deployed two similar OTH-R installations — known as Duga-1 and Duga-2 — this one near Chernobyl and the other in eastern Siberia. Transmitter power levels were rumoured to be in the 10-megawatt EIRP range.

Duga-1 was the focus of a 2015 documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, by Chad Gracia. The film includes interviews with Duga Commander Vladimir Musiets and others involved in building and operating the OTH-R system. The production was a 2015 Sundance Film Festival winner in the documentary category.

Mention of Chernobyl reminds me of the unintended wild boar/pig experiment, which has taken place in Fukushima, after the area was evacuated of humans after the Japanese Earthquake and resultant tsunami drowned two nuclear reactors, causing them to release their radioactivity into the environment.

Donovan Anderson, a researcher at Fukushima University in Japan says that his genetic study of the wild boar that roam in an area largely abandoned after Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster, has revealed how the animals have thrived.

Using DNA samples, he discovered that the boar have bred with domestic pigs that escaped from farms.  This has created wild pig-boar hybrids that now inhabit the zone. “While the radiation hasn’t caused a genetic effect, the invasive domestic pig species has,” Mr Anderson explained.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings B, paint a biological picture from a vast experiment that was caused by a nuclear disaster. The scientists used DNA to track the legacy of the event on the landscape – finding out what happens to wild animals in a radiation-contaminated area that is suddenly deserted by humans and, at the same time, invaded by domestic livestock.

Examining the DNA of the wild boar and escaped domestic pigs showed that what researchers called a “biological invasion” could be seen in the boar’s genes.

It also revealed that those domestic pig genes have been gradually “diluted” over time. “I think the pigs were not able to survive in the wild, but the boar thrived in the abandoned towns – because they’re so robust,” explained Donovan Anderson.

So, he said, while the evacuated area was the origin of this hybridisation, or cross-breeding, the hybrid pigs then go on to breed with wild boar.

This confirms yet again that, if you leave nature to its own devices, it gets on with smoothing out genetic discrepancies, and allows the fittest to survive.

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