HAMNET Report 8th October 2023

By last Monday, GDACS was posting a red level warning for Tropical Cyclone KOINU, directed towards the Chinese mainland, and placing 10 million people in the path of winds of at least 120km/h. Travelling in a north-westerly direction, the cyclone had a chance of crossing the southern-most tip of Taiwan, before hitting the Chinese coast, east of Hong Kong, on about Saturday the 7th.

Very heavy rainfall was forecast over the whole island of Taiwan between 4th and 8th October, as well as over northern Luzon and Batanes islands in the Philippines.

Fortunately, by Wednesday, the alert level had been downgraded to an orange warning, and the number of people threatened by dangerous winds halved.

Nevertheless, heavy rain was forecast to start falling over south-eastern China from yesterday (Saturday).

And Tropical Storm PHILIPPE has been drifting slowly towards the Lesser Antilles Islands, and was due to pass east of Bermuda early yesterday morning, with sustained winds of about 110km/h. Heavy rainfall was predicted for the entire group of islands in its path.

On Tuesday the 3rd, a series of four strong earthquakes struck north-western Nepal, the strongest being of magnitude 6.2. Several milder aftershocks followed. About 400 houses were damaged or destroyed, and the quakes are thought to be partly the cause of damage to a hydroelectric plant’s dam in the north-eastern Sikkim state of India. Heavy rain and flash floods in the catchment area of that dam occurred at the same time as the earthquake over the border. News of casualties is slow to reach the provincial capital in Nepal, due to the remote location of the earthquakes.

And, while I am writing this news has come in of 4 earthquakes in Afghanistan of magnitude 6 or greater, and two 6.7 earthquakes in Papua New Guinea on Saturday morning. The earth under our feet is restless.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conducted a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on 4th October.

The national test was to consist of two portions, testing WEA and EAS capabilities. Both tests were scheduled to begin at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

The WEA portion of the test was to be directed to consumer cell phones. This was the third nationwide test, but the second test to all WEA-compatible cellular devices. The test message was displayed in either English or in Spanish, depending on the language settings of the wireless handset.

The EAS portion of the test was to be sent to radios and televisions. This will be the seventh nationwide EAS test.

FEMA and the FCC were coordinating with EAS participants, wireless providers, emergency managers and other stakeholders in preparation for this national test to minimize confusion and maximize the public safety value of the test.

The purpose of the test was to ensure that the systems continue to be an effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level.

This is a very valuable ability on FEMA’s part, one which we should be investigating in this country.

Interestingengineering.com reported this week on an interesting, tiny satellite made by Estonian students which will soon be launched into space with a big mission: to test a novel technology that could help clean up the space junk orbiting our planet.

The satellite, called ESTCube-2, is the size of a shoebox and weighs only 4 kg. It was to hitch a ride on Europe’s Vega VV23 rocket, scheduled to lift off last week from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

The main goal of ESTCube-2 is to demonstrate the ‘plasma brake’ concept, a type of electric sail (E-sail) that uses a long, thin wire to interact with the charged particles in space.

The plasma brake was invented by Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), who envisioned it as a way to explore the Solar System without fuel. By deploying a wire that is positively charged by a solar panel, a spacecraft could harness the force of the solar wind, a stream of protons and electrons that flows from the Sun.

However, near Earth, where the planet’s magnetic field blocks the solar wind, the plasma brake can do the opposite: it can slow down a satellite by repelling the plasma in the ionosphere, an electrically active layer of the atmosphere. This would cause the satellite to lose altitude and eventually burn in the atmosphere, avoiding becoming space debris.

As per the ESA’s press release, the plasma brake could offer a cheap and straightforward solution to deorbit satellites at the end of their lives, reducing the risk of space collisions and clutter. It could also remove existing debris by attaching it to them with a robotic arm or a harpoon.

ESTCube-2 will test this idea by deploying a 50-meter-long wire made of four aluminium strands, each as thin as a human hair. A 3-watt solar panel will charge the wire, creating a 100-volt potential difference with the surrounding plasma. The satellite will measure the force and the current generated by the wire and its effect on the orbit.

The wire is designed to be resilient against micrometeorites and other hazards that could snap it. It has a net-like structure with two parallel and two zigzagging wires that are bonded together.

Certainly, an idea that has been very well conceived. Let’s hope it works just as well.

Reuters.com reports that the flooding that killed thousands in Libya’s city of Derna last month damaged the ruins at the ancient Greek city of Cyrene in the mountains nearby, but it also revealed new archaeological remains there by washing away earth and stones.

The flooding caused mud and rubble to pile in Cyrene’s Greek-era baths that will require specialised clearing said local antiquities department official Adel Boufjra.

While causing great damage to the picturesque ruins at Cyrene, known locally as Shehat and a draw for travellers since the 18th century, the water has also washed clear a previously unknown Roman drainage system, Boufjra said.

“The flooding has revealed a new site – a water canal that I believe dates back to the Roman era. It is a distinctive discovery for the city,” he said.

Cyrene was a Greek colony and one of the principle cities of the ancient Hellenic world before becoming a major centre under the Romans until an earthquake destroyed it in the year 365.

One of Libya’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites, along with the extensive Roman ruins overlooking the Mediterranean at Sabratha and Leptis Magna, Cyrene’s stone pillared temples stand on a fertile hillside near rocky crags.

It is nice to know that, out of disaster, can sometimes come positive developments one might otherwise never have discovered.

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