HAMNET Report 3rd September 2023

This is a weekend when I have to report an entire rash of Tropical Cyclones breaking out all over the show, like the measles! The GDACS report almost can’t keep up.

In chronological order, Tropical Cyclone (or Hurricane) Franklin was probably the first on our list, present since about the 20th of August, still threatening the central Caribbean Islands now, but not having caused a tremendous amount of damage so far. I did report on some damage to the Dominican Republic last Sunday.

Next to make its presence felt was Cyclone SAOLA, active in the north west Pacific since 23rd of August, threatening about 32 million people in all, in the Philippines and on the Chinese mainland with winds of up to 120km/h. Maximum wind speeds were forecast to reach 250km/h.

A very sudden storm called IDALIA sprang up to the east of the Florida panhandle about a week ago, and gained a kind of notoriety by becoming the first hurricane to cross three US states consecutively, while still holding hurricane status. This has apparently never happened before. It started east of Florida, crossed over the “handle” of the pan, so to speak, struck South Carolina and South Georgia, before losing its status. By Friday just past, it was still making life uncomfortable for about half a million people in Georgia with winds blowing at 120km/h.

theguardian.com notes that Hurricane IDALIA could become the costliest climate disaster to hit the US this year, with massive implications for the insurance and risk management industries. The category 3 storm has a preliminary price tag between $9.36bn, based on early estimates, from risk analysts at UBS, and $18bn-$20bn calculated by AccuWeather.

Finally, another cyclone, this one called HAIKUI arose before 28th August in the northwest Pacific, and is barreling down on mainland China with maximum wind speeds of 194km/h, and threatening 19 million people with category one winds of at least 120km/h. GDACS’ forecast says it will cross the Chinese coastline on Tuesday the 4th.

Life certainly is a bit blustery at this time of year, if you happen to live in the Tropical Cyclone zone!

Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, Deputy National HAMNET Director, has pointed out to me a long article arising in the Canadian news media bemoaning the inability of the local population to derive information concerning the Canadian wildfires, and instructions to communities to evacuate, from social media, particularly Meta, which has announced a formal news block of all Canadian news after Canada’s Online News Act was passed in June, which may require large social media platforms (like Meta) to enter into revenue-sharing agreements with Canadian news publishers.

Locals are reinforcing the idea that good old steam radio, in the form of AM or FM broadcasts, should be encouraged, and citizens encouraged to listen to their radios for information that has, in the last decade or so, progressively been disseminated more on social media.

In that social media platforms rely on a working internet, and the internet is not guaranteed during natural disasters like fires, floods or earthquakes, it certainly makes more sense for Joe Public to have his portable FM/AM radio with him, running happily on replaceable batteries that don’t have to be recharged every day, like his cell phone does, such that he can monitor the status quo, and respond correctly to developments.

So, in general, we should not let our reliance on social media engulf the channels of communication still available by radio in general, and, in our case, amateur radio in particular. A ban on local news by social media serves as a reminder of the enduring value of free-to-air radio, even in the digital age.

Thank you to theconversation.com for the substance of this insert, and to Brian for drawing my attention to it.

Airlineratings.com is the first to have, in a long article, covered the report published on Friday by three eminent scientists including our own Dr Hannes Coetzee, ZS6BZP, on the use of WSPR disturbances to track the final course of Malaysian flight MH370.

British aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey and academics Hannes Coetzee and Prof. Simon Maskell used Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) to detect and track MH370 while it was still in the air.

As an aircraft flies through a WSPR amateur radio signal, it disturbs the signal, and that signal and its disturbances are stored in a huge database of information collected since WSPR came into existence in 2009.

Airline Ratings reveals that the method has tracked the aircraft to a new location at 1,560km (or 842nmi) west (that is, 277 degrees) of Perth – slightly north of that previously thought. The aircraft is believed to be resting at a depth of up to 4,000m.

WSPR technology has been refined over the past three years and the results represent credible new evidence in the search for MH370 and could finally bring closure to the families of the 239 people on-board.

From the last known radar position, the report presents 67 positions for MH370 over 6 hours and 27 minutes of flight, as detected by a total of 125 anomalous WSPR links.

The results of this case study align with the analyses by Boeing and Inmarsat and the drift analysis by the University of Western Australia of the MH370 floating debris that has been recovered from around the Indian Ocean.

Dr Robert Westphal, an expert in passive radar systems, first proposed the idea of using WSPR transmissions to detect and track MH370 in July 2020. Dr. Westphal presented his ideas in a paper titled “Geocaching in the Ionosphere” at the HamSCI conference in 2021.

Dr Westphal had previously written a paper in 2015 proposing the use of GPS satellite signals as a passive radar system and he holds several related patents.

A crash location of around 29.0°S and 99.5°E, about 1560km east of Perth, provides a search area of 130km by 74km, according to the researchers, who note that about 46% of this area has previously been searched.

It has therefore been suggested that a further search be made east of the previous search area, where the other 54% of the potential crash area is situated.

Let’s hope that the research is accurate and does bring closure to those families. I personally comprehend how a steady stream of RF (like WSPR signals) could be interfered with by a metallic object passing through their path, though I don’t understand it.

However, Dave Casler, KE3OG, who has a Masters in Electrical Engineering, and is a regular contributor to the ARRL publication QST, and also a popular YouTuber, has previously said that he regards the suppositions as imprecise, and unlikely to be accurate enough to pinpoint MH370’s watery grave.

Let us hope ZS6BZP and his fellow researchers are right, and KE3OG is wrong!

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