HAMNET report 26th June 2022

CNN reports that aid groups scrambled on Thursday to reach victims of a powerful earthquake that rocked eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people in an area blighted by poor infrastructure, as the country faces dire economic and hunger crises.

The slow response, exacerbated by international sanctions and decades of mismanagement, concerns people working in the humanitarian space, like Obaidullah Baheer, lecturer in Transitional Justice at the American University of Afghanistan. “This is a very patchwork, band-aid solution for a problem that we need to start thinking (about) mid to long term… what do we do when (another disaster) hits?” he asked CNN by phone.

The magnitude 5.9 quake struck during the early hours of Wednesday near the city of Khost close to the Pakistan border and the death toll is expected to rise as many of the homes in the area were flimsily made out of wood, mud and other materials vulnerable to damage.

Humanitarian agencies are converging on the area, but its remote location has complicated rescue efforts.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has successfully dispatched humanitarian aid and assistance to families in Paktika and Khost provinces to cover the needs of about 4,000 people, a spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres said during a Thursday press briefing.

Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the “priority needs include emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance, health and water and sanitation, as well as hygiene support.”

He added that the World Food Program (WFP) has confirmed stocks of food will be able to serve at least 14,000 people in the hardest-hit Paktika province.

“At least 18 trucks are making their way to the earthquake-affected areas carrying emergency supplies, including high-energy biscuits and mobile storage units,” a WFP statement released Thursday said.

UNICEF Afghanistan tweeted that they were able to distribute “hygiene kits, winter kits, emergency family kitchen kits, tents, blankets, warm clothes and tarpaulin” to affected individuals in Paktika and Khost.

The quake coincided with heavy monsoon rain and wind between June 20 and 22, which has hampered search efforts and helicopter travel.

As medics and emergency staff from around the country attempt to access the site, help is expected to be limited as a number of organizations pulled out of the aid-dependent country when the Taliban took power in August last year.

Those that remain are stretched thin. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had mobilized “all of the resources” from around the country, with teams on the ground providing medicine and emergency support. But, as one WHO official put it, “the resources are overstretched here, not just for this region.”

It is estimated that 7,000 people were exposed to very strong and 119,000 to strong shaking. The most affected province is Paktika Province (south of Khost Province) with at least 200 deaths, but fatalities were also reported in the Provinces of Khost and Nangarhar. The seismic event was also felt in Pakistan and India.

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Ofcom is proposing to allow satellite operators to access more spectrum so they can provide a wider range of broadband services, including in hard-to-reach areas.

Ofcom says “As consumer demand for satellite services increases, we want to support innovation by extending spectrum access under our Earth Station Network licence to include the 14.25-14.5 GHz band.

“This would double the capacity available to satellite operators in what is known as the “Ku band”, meaning they would be able to use the full 14-14.5 GHz band for their services.

“This would support better broadband for more rural homes and businesses, as well as connecting planes and ships. In the future, these new frequencies could also help connect road vehicles, trains and drones, including in more remote parts of the UK.

“As part of this approach, new conditions would also be introduced to protect existing radio astronomy sites making observations in the 14.47-14.5 GHz band from interference. We also plan to introduce temporary conditions to protect any fixed links remaining temporarily in the band.”

They don’t specify whether these frequency allocations would only apply to the UK, or whether the allocations would also be encouraged in other parts of the world.

Reporting on Wednesday the 22nd, on cnet.com, Erick Mack noted that space weather watchers were keeping a close eye on a dark and volatile spot on the sun that had grown dramatically this week.

Between Sunday and Monday, Sunspot AR3038 more than doubled in size, making it several times wider than Earth’s diameter, and it continued to expand until Wednesday, according to NASA heliophysicist C. Alex Young, writing at EarthSky.

Sunspots are darkened, cooler areas on the sun’s surface with unstable magnetic fields, and they can produce solar flares and coronal mass ejections of charged particles and plasma. These flares and ejections occasionally cause chaos for electrical and radio communications systems here on Earth.

Over the last day, the mega-sunspot let off a pair of minor, C-class solar flares while pointing straight at Earth, but Astronomer Tony Phillips reports at Spaceweather.com that “Sunspot AR3038 has a ‘beta-gamma’ magnetic field that harbours energy for (medium strength) M-class solar flares.”

Generally M-class flares aren’t that big of a deal, but earlier this year, a flurry of M-class flare activity created a geomagnetic storm strong enough that SpaceX reported it had essentially fried a number of its Starlink satellites.

Our magnetosphere prevents the radioactive eruptions from harming life on the surface of Earth, but it does pose a risk to our communications systems, astronauts in space and even the electrical grid on the ground, particularly more powerful X-class flares.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre forecast a 25 to 30 percent chance of M-class flares over the following three days and a 5 to 10 percent chance of X-class flares.

We end this bulletin in the same manner that we started it, with news of another Magnitude 5+ earthquake, this one a 5.6 strength quake on the Iranian coast of the Gulf of Aden, which occurred yesterday morning at 2am our time.

It occurred at a depth of 10km and exposed a smallish population of about 3000 people to severe shaking. At the time of writing, I am unaware of any casualties or humanitarian assistance needed. There may be more news next week.

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

HAMNET Report 19th June 2022

May I start this report by wishing all the fathers listening a Happy Father’s Day? I hope you are accorded the gratitude you earned, and that you have a wonderful day with your families.

The biggest outdoor radio activity in America’s calendar takes place next weekend, with the arrival of the annual Field Day event. Every club or group in the country will be setting up a station away from electricity and permanent antenna structures, and attempting to make contact with as many other similar stations as possible.

The American press is full of announcements of local clubs and their plans to activate stations in fields, meadows, hills, and probably mountains, running fairly portable equipment on battery power, supported by solar panels, generators or cars alternators. Low power communications will be prevalent, and hopefully the sun will play the game and provide decent ionospheric conditions to allow low power signals to be heard.

Obviously, the value of Field Day lies in training the average operator to be of use in emergency communications, helping to deal with the extreme weather conditions which the Americas so often face. We all benefit from the frequencies we are allocated, on the proviso that we be prepared to assist our individual countries when disasters of any sort strike, and America is not different.

Follow-up reports of field day experiences will be presented for several months in publications and newsletters, and post mortems of what went right, and what didn’t, will abound. No doubt I’ll have several of those for you over the coming weeks.

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports this week that, on 10th June, the official radio station of the International Telecommunications Union celebrated its 60th year on the air.

It started broadcasting on 10 June 1962 and was officially inaugurated the following month by then UN Secretary-General U Thant and ITU Secretary-General Gerald Gross – himself a ‘’ham” radio enthusiast known by the callsign W3GG.

Recognized as a unique “country” in the ham radio community, 4U1ITU operates in accordance with privileges extended by ITU and the Government of Switzerland. It has also earned the DXCC (or ham radio “century club”) award from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), confirming air contacts with 100 or more countries.

From its long-time home on the 5th floor of the Varembé Building in Geneva’s international district, this unique broadcasting outlet still today serves as a model for the highest standards of amateur radio station operation everywhere.

Not many of us have been on the air for 60 straight years, so congratulations to 4U1ITU, and may you remain with us for decades to come.

Reporting further on the humanitarian crisis still gripping the Ukraine civilian population, GDACS reports that nearly two-thirds of children in Ukraine have been uprooted, according to a UNICEF director, calling the war a “child rights crisis”. The number of damaged schools is likely in the thousands, and only about 25% of schools in Ukraine are even operational.

Since 24 February, over 6.6 million people have received food assistance, over 2.7 million health-related support and nearly 1.7 million people cash assistance.

The European Commission is coordinating the delivery of assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to Ukraine, from all 27 Member States and three Participating States. More than 40,000 tonnes of assistance from these countries and items from the rescEU medical stockpile have been delivered to Ukraine via the UCPM logistic hubs in Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

As usual, and sadly, it is always the civilian population in a conflict that suffers the worst collateral damage.

Now, here’s one to file in your head in the field entitled “Information I didn’t need to know”.

Phys.org reports that a large international team of researchers has found 69 unique genetic variants linked to the ability to keep time to a beat. In their paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, the group describes their genetic study involving more than 600,000 volunteers.

Most human beings have the ability to keep time to a beat—clapping along in sync with the drummer on a rock song, for example. But some people do not have this ability. In this new effort, the researchers wondered if there were genes responsible for the ability to keep a beat, suggesting genetic variations could account for those who could not keep time. To find out, they started by asking a large group of volunteers the simple question: “Can you clap in time with a musical beat?” 91.57% of the 606,825 volunteers responded yes. They also asked some of the volunteers to engage in beat-measuring experiments, such as tapping a key on a keyboard in time to the beat of a song. The researchers noted that those volunteers who answered yes to the main question scored higher on such experiments.

The researchers then conducted a large-scale genome wide association study (GWAS) on the volunteers aimed at identifying the loci associated with keeping time. They found 69 genes involved in beat synchronization that differed [in] those who could keep a beat and those who could not. They also found that the gene VRK2 appeared to be the most significant. And they found that volunteers who self-identified as musicians tended to have more variants, suggesting variants could go both ways—giving people a better sense of a beat or a worse one. Prior research has also found links between people with VRK2 variants and several types of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and chronic depression.

The researchers also found that other genes besides those that are needed to recognize the timing of a beat are involved in keeping a beat, such as walking pace, respiratory flow and the processing speed of certain parts of the brain. They also suggest the ability to keep a beat might be linked to childhood speech development and social interactions.

I note that they don’t include any reference to the ability of the genetic variants to aid one in sending or receiving Morse Code rhythmically and correctly. If there is a connection, I clearly wasn’t born with any of these variants!

This is Morse-incapable Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa

HAMNET Report 12th June 2022

From the Pacific Ring of Fire, GDACS reports that, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the activity of Mount Bulusan continues. Over the past 24 hours, five volcanic earthquakes have been recorded, and the ash plume reached 250 m above the crater drifting north-northwest.

Following the huge phreatic eruption of 5 June, 418 people were evacuated into two temporary shelters located in Juban Town, while the number of affected people stands at 16,400 across 11 barangays, located  in Sorsogon Province (Bicol Region, southern Luzon, central Philippines).

The alert level is placed at 1 (Low Level of Volcanic Unrest), but an entry ban to a radius of 4 km is still in effect.

From AJU Business Daily comes an interesting report that South Korea’s science ministry will develop a technology to monitor underwater disasters such as submarine earthquakes and tsunamis in real-time and overcome the limitations of seismological observatories on land that cannot accurately identify the exact location, epicentre and scale of underwater earthquakes.

The Ministry of Science and ICT launched a pilot project to establish a surveillance network that can monitor underwater earthquakes, tsunamis and slope collapse in real-time and quickly spread related information using wireless networks. Some 24 billion won ($19.1 million) will be invested for five years starting in 2022.

The project would help the ministry analyse geological environments in the sea off the east coast and select candidate sites for submarine disasters. A prototype for an underwater wireless observation network will be created to transmit data observed on the seabed to build a real-time platform for data collection, storage, analysis and management.

“We will cooperate with the Korea Meteorological Administration successfully to carry out the project so that the research outcomes can contribute to early warnings,” an unnamed maritime ministry official said in a statement on June 9. The ministry said the new technology can be used in other sectors.

Being on the Pacific Ring of Fire, as the circular earthquake-prone ring around the Pacific is called, South Korea needs all the advance warning of earthquakes or tsunamis it can get, and the same is true of all other countries on the ring.

On 12 May 2022, a Zambian-registered truck hauling a tanker of hydrochloric acid left the northbound carriageway of the N3 near Howick and plunged down an embankment onto the south-bound freeway.

Miraculously, the south-bound fast lane of the country’s busiest highway was free of traffic at that moment. A collision setting off a hydrochloric acid explosion would have spewed clouds of highly flammable hydrogen gas and toxic chlorine gas into the air.

The municipality dodged an even deadlier bullet on 11 February when hundreds of travellers on the N3 approaching Pietermaritzburg from Durban diced with disaster when a fully laden LPG tanker overturned near Ashburton.

Motorists and their passengers, many en route to the Midmar Mile, were oblivious to the potential catastrophe. All it needed was a spark to ignite the highly flammable load of 8,500 litres of compressed gas.

Preventing almost certain death on the highway and, in Ashburton, straddling the N3 that Friday afternoon were two emergency response trucks summoned from the Pietermaritzburg and Durban fire services. For hours that afternoon, through the night and well into the next morning, the trucks hosed down the tanker to prevent an inferno.

The vehicles were called out because the Umgungundlovu District Municipality was incapable of rendering an adequate emergency service. The UMDM’s fire truck dispatched from its station at Ashburton was not equipped to deal with the emergency.

Of deep concern to professionals in the industry was that emergency protocols designed to mitigate catastrophic disasters were being ignored. In the case of the hydrochloric acid spill, traffic, including heavy trucks, sped past the accident seemingly oblivious to the danger.

The LPG spill in February should have resulted in traffic being stopped on both carriageways, and the evacuation of people from their cars, and officials moving  them at least 800m away. Even that wouldn’t have been enough if the tanker had caught alight, according to Joe Nassar of Starstruck Fire Services.

He explained that LPG expands to 270 times the volume of gas it occupies as a liquid, and that the force of the blast would have hurled the tanker 100m into the air.

It would also have unleashed a giant fireball and a fiery gas cloud would have blanketed an area of 3km2. Because LPG is heavier than air, the flames would latch on to any combustible material to keep burning.

Cars and their fuel tanks would have been fodder for the perfect firestorm.

We can all be very thankful that both of these disasters were avoided. Thanks to the Daily Maverick for this excerpt from their article.

Here’s a worrying if funny report from TMZ.com.

The good folks at M&M Mars had a genuine chocolate disaster on their hands … 2 people got trapped in a chocolate factory vat — not on purpose, we think — and they required a “jaws of life” type rescue.

What sounds like a scene straight outta “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” went down ten days ago at an M&M Mars plant in Lancaster County … not too far from Hershey, PA.

It’s unclear right now how the 2 people fell into the vat, but authorities reportedly had to cut a hole in the side of the tank to get them out.

The first victim was reportedly rescued around 3:10 PM, and the second was extricated about 15 minutes later. No word yet on if the vat was filled to the brim or empty when the victims went down.

And, yes … they’re still victims, even if they were possibly swimming in chocolate.

No word on either person’s condition right now, but according to reports they were alive when cops pulled them out.

Hmm, I think if that had happened to me, I’d have evaded rescue for as long as possible!

Finally, a warning to all listeners in the Western half of the country: A massive frontal system will arrive today (Sunday), bringing icy conditions, and about 3 inches of rain, to the Western Cape. Please avoid low ground, and keep your radios on emergency frequencies to be ready to respond if needed.

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

HAMNET Report 5th June 2022

The ARRL Newsletter, and GDACS said that, on Saturday, May 28, as Hurricane Agatha (the first hurricane of the eastern Pacific hurricane season) was ready to make landfall in Mexico, operators at WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) were conducting the annual readiness check of the station for 2022.

This year marks the 42nd year of volunteer communication services for the NHC. After 2 years of volunteer ham radio operators working remotely from their home stations due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, hams were able to operate inside the NHC for this year’s annual test event.

The event was reported as successful, with all of the station’s radios and antennas having performed well. Within 8 hours, 289 contacts were made nationwide and internationally. Operators used HF, VHF, and UHF radios, as well as digital modes.

Then, on Monday, May 30, Hurricane Agatha hit Oaxaca, Mexico as a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 170km/h. It was recorded as the strongest hurricane to come ashore in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane season, making landfall on a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages in southern Mexico. The next morning, Agatha was downgraded to a tropical depression, with winds of 55km/h.

The Government of Oaxaca reports that at least nine people have died and 22 others are missing, mainly in the Coastal and Sierra Sur Regions of Oaxaca. Search and rescue operations are continuing. According to media, six fatalities and 10 missing people were reported in the municipality of Santiago Xanica which is one of the most affected areas, and the main route connecting the area has been destroyed. Many towns in Oaxaca are affected by power outages and roads blocked by landslides and floodwaters.

Greg G0DUB reports that Carlos CO2JC provided this update on Wednesday releasing the frequencies in use for Hurricane Agatha;

“The following frequencies that were used for communications due to the passage of Hurricane Agatha are released for the time being.

They are “7095 kHz, 7120 kHz, 3720 kHz and 14120 kHz.

“We continue to monitor the possible formation of a tropical cyclone in the area between the southwestern Gulf of Mexico and the north-western Caribbean Sea in the next few hours”, Carlos said.

Now here’s the first news of something that will become more and more useful and prominent in future radio comms.

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Paul Jaffe KJ4IKI and his team at U.S. Naval Research Laboratory have succeeded in transferring 1.6 kw of power over a 1 km path using 10 GHz

The US Navy describes it as being “the most significant power beaming demonstration in nearly 50 years.”

The aim was to demonstrate power beaming of 1 kW of electrical power over a distance of 1 km using 10 GHz. The two sites used were the U.S. Army Research Field at Blossom Point in Maryland, and The Haystack Ultrawideband Satellite Imaging Radar (HUSIR) transmitter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“The reason for setting those targets is to push this technology farther than has been demonstrated before,” said Paul Jaffe Ph.D., Power Beaming and Space Solar Lead. “You don’t want to use too high a frequency as it can start losing power to the atmosphere. 10 GHz is a great choice because the component technology out there is cheap and mature. Even in heavy rainfall, loss of power is less than five percent.”

In Maryland, the team exceeded their target by 60 percent by beaming 1.6 kW just over 1 km. At the Massachusetts site, the team did not have the same peak power, but the average power was much higher thereby delivering more energy. Jaffe said these demonstrations pave the way for power beaming on Earth, in space, and from space to Earth using power densities within safety limits set by international standards bodies.

“As engineers, we develop systems that will not exceed those safety limits,” Jaffe said. “That means it’s safe for birds, animals, and people.”

I predict that this technology will get incorporated into more and more power distribution systems for equipment at sites where no wired electricity is available.

Interesting Engineering has an article on Zombie Satellites still in orbit after decades of non-use, which have been found still to be transmitting beacon material or telemetry.

They include:

  • LES-1 a communications satellite from 1965, which spontaneously began to resume transmissions in 2012. Apparently, a short had developed in the satellite’s systems allowing power from the solar cells to reach the transmitter directly.
  • LES-5 a similar satellite launched in 1967, which revived itself from a graveyard orbit, and is still transmitting its telemetry beacon on 236.75MHz.
  • Transit 5B-5, launched in 1964, which can still transmit at 136.650MHz when it is passing through sunlight.
  • The most well-known to us is AMSAT-OSCAR 7, the second so-called “Phase 2” satellite designed and built by the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, or AMSAT for short. Launched into orbit in November of 1974, the satellite worked as expected for many years until its batteries finally died in mid-1981.

AO-7 carries two amateur radio transponders. The first, its “Mode A” transponder, has an uplink on the 2-meter band and a downlink on the 10-meter band. The second called its “Mode B” transponder, has an uplink on the 70-centimeter band and a downlink on the 2-meter band. AO-7 also carries beacons which are designed to operate on the 10-meter, 2-meter, and 70-centimeter band.

Miraculously, after several decades of silence, the satellite began to resume transmissions in June of 2002. The reason appears to be the fact that one of its batteries shorted, allowing it to become an open circuit and allow the spacecraft to run off its solar panels when the satellite is in direct sunlight.

Today, AO-7 is officially one of the oldest remaining communications satellites in existence. It will be 50 years old in 2024.

  • Others include Prospero (1971), Calsphere 1 and 2 (1964), Lageos-1 (1976) and ISEE-3, the latter orbiting the sun since 1978, hopefully to be reactivated in the future.

So folks, because we are old and decrepit, does not necessarily mean we have stopped being useful. Hopefully the older radio amateurs will continue to be mentors to the new licensees. No question that is ever asked, or piece of advice sought, is ever stupid. Sometimes, the answers are!

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