HAMNET Report 25th February 2024

The Dischem Ride for Sight is an annual cycle event held in February every year. This year marked the 35th cycle race held at the Boksburg Stadium and attracted 2800 cyclists who participated in one of three race distances: 116 km, 62 km and an 8 km fun ride.

SARL HAMNET Gauteng has been involved with providing communications and other services for the event for a number of years and this year once again excelled at ensuring that the race was successful, enjoyable and safe for all the participating cyclists.

The HAMNET contingent consisted of radio amateurs from Gauteng as well as their neighbours from across the Vaal from Sasolburg in the Freestate. HAMNET Gauteng and Freestate regularly assist each other on either side of the Vaal and between them are quite a formidable team who do not stand back from any challenges. The HAMNET members within the Vaal Triangle encompassing Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark and Sasolburg areas are known as HAMNET Vaal even though they technically belong to two different regions. Members of Pro-Ethnos Search and Rescue as well as the Chaplaincy also assisted in the event, either as drivers, co-drivers or medical response alongside Dial-A-Medic, who were the official medical support service providers.

The VOC situated at the Boksburg Stadium was already being set up on the Saturday preceding the event where sweep vehicles all driven by radio amateurs were installed with radios and APRS tracking devices, whether RF, GSM or phone based. All medical response vehicles and ambulances were also installed with radio and tracking devices. A number of the HAMNET members who had travelled long distances slept over in the VOC so that they could be up and about by 03h00 on Sunday morning, the 18th February.

There were 4 water points on the long 116 km route that extended from Boksburg down to Alberton, Midvaal, around the south and eastern side of the Suikerbosrand to Heidelberg and back to the Boksburg Stadium via Carnival City. Each water point manager set up a mini-JOC and managed two sweep vehicles that patrolled their section of the route.

The Short 62km route had only one water point at the 30 km mark and one sweep.

As the race proceeded and the back-marker closed the various water points as the last cyclist passed them, the respective sweeps were re-assigned to the next water point and the water point managers escorted their water trucks to the next water point to supplement the rapidly diminishing stocks of water and Coca-Cola. Temperatures along the route on the day were in excess of 30 degrees and all sweeps who had a BLS medic on board were on the look-out for signs of dehydration amongst the riders, and encouraged those who were showing symptoms to abandon the race and rather opt for a free ride back to the finish on a sweep vehicle or one of the two buses that were available.

The event ran seamlessly and no serious incidents were reported, thanks to the sterling work done by the team lead by Leon ZS6LMG and Johan ZS6DMX, the Regional and Deputy Regional Directors of HAMNET Gauteng. Well done to everyone involved.

This report was compiled by Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, HAMNET Deputy National Director, who on the day performed the duties of water point manager and later a sweep along with his daughter Anja ZS6SJC who was also a sweep and participated in her first HAMNET event on her own. Thank you, Brian, and congratulations to you and Anja on a job well done.

A message from Michael ZS1MJT, HAMNET Regional Director for the Western Cape says that the Western Province Disaster Management Agency is planning a communications system test on Friday the 1st March between 08h00 and 10h00. In anticipation of that, HAMNET will hold a test session today the 25th activating both our Cape Town stations ZS1DZ and ZS1DCC.

The idea will be to confirm good enough links with George, Mossel Bay, Agulhas, Porterville, and possibly Beaufort West. Although HF will be used between these areas, were it to turn out that the disaster management centre in any of these areas cannot hear or be heard, the plan is for local participating amateurs to attempt HF comms with Cape Town, and then relay their messages by VHF to the centres that are not hearing or being heard.

So it will be a combined effort amongst those at the disaster management centres, and local amateurs in the neighbourhood who can relay information on.

Michael notes that “Our performance on Friday 1 March is crucial, and it’s essential that this exercise is meticulously organized. We are under scrutiny, and it’s imperative that we excel.”

Designated HF frequencies will be 7110 kHz LSB and 5410 kHz USB.

I hope to carry a feedback report of this exercise of 1st March on next Sunday’s bulletin.

Three top-tier X-class solar flares launched off the sun between Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The first two occurred seven hours apart, coming in at X1.9 and X1.6 magnitude respectively. The third, the most powerful of the current 11-year “solar cycle,” ranked an impressive X6.3.

Solar flares, or bursts of radiation, are ranked on a scale that goes from A, B and C to M and X, in increasing order of intensity. Solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, can influence “space weather” across the solar system, and even here on Earth. CMEs are slower shock waves of magnetic energy from the sun. Flares can reach Earth in minutes, but CMEs usually take at least a day.

All three of the X-class solar flares disrupted shortwave radio communications on Earth. But the first two flares did not release a CME. And, after careful review, scientists confirmed that the third also did not produce one. Therefore, no additional impact on Earth was expected. Three back-to-back radio blackoutsdidoccur in response to the trio of flares, but primarily over the Pacific and Indian oceans. They were rated “R3” or greater on a 1 to 5 scale.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre, such a radio blackout results in a “wide area blackout of [high frequency] radio communication, [and] loss of radio contact for about an hour on the sunlit side of the Earth.”

Thank you to the Washington Post, for this report of solar activity.

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

HAMNET Report 18th February 2024

As we celebrated World Radio Day this week, themediaonline.co.za reported that radio is thriving across Africa. Exact figures are difficult to come by because audience research differs across countries. But studies estimate radio listenership to be between 60% and 80% of the continent’s population of 1.4 billion,according to a group of researchers from the University of the Western Cape, and the Universities of Mauritius, Nairobi, Indiana, Namibia, and the Ghana Institute of Journalism.

In contrast to many western countries, where there has been a shift towards streaming and podcasts, traditional radio continues to be widely embraced in Africa. Because of poor literacy levels and uneven access to the internet and technological infrastructure, old-fashioned radio remains a reliable and inclusive medium.

This year’s celebration of the 100-plus years of radio offered the researchers an opportunity, as African media scholars, to reflect on the historical significance, cultural relevance, political power and social impact of the medium on the continent. In their report, they homed in on examples from the regions they studied to demonstrate this rich history.

In early years, radio in Africa served colonial interests, and allowed Europeans in their colonies to connect to home, their culture and their languages.

In the early 1920s amateur radio enthusiasts had already begun tinkering with the technology. The first official broadcast seems to have been on 18 December 1923 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Western and eastern African countries were quick to follow. Colonial powers such as the UK and France upped their radio transmission efforts after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The 1940s were marked by the introduction of indigenous language broadcasts by colonial powers wanting to influence public opinion and garner support for their war effort. While the British broadcast to Africa in some African languages, France broadcast only in French.

This laid the groundwork for future developments. After the war, the British officially adopted a policy of extending broadcasting services across most of its African colonies.

The 1950s saw the expansion and transformation of radio in Africa. Radio stations across British, French and Belgian colonies rapidly increased as people under colonial rule increased their efforts to achieve independence.

From the late 1940s to the early 1960s the number of radio-receiving sets increased fivefold, from 90 sets per thousand people in Africa to 450.

In some respects the 1960s was a golden era for African radio. A wave of independence movements birthed new nations as radio technology was becoming more affordable.

Many newly independent countries established national broadcasting services. This expanded the reach of radio and the opportunity to embrace local languages, music and cultural programming.

These days, digital convergence is reshaping radio consumption, blurring audience patterns.

This isn’t happening uniformly across the continent. Digital platforms face challenges, such as the digital divide and economic inequality.

Radio’s influence is likely to endure, with podcasts complementing rather than replacing traditional broadcasts. A 2022 survey across 34 African countries found radio was “overwhelmingly the most common source for news”. This is a testament to its enduring influence and unique ability to connect with diverse audiences – even a century after its introduction.

Thank you to themediaonline for this summary of their article.

Associate Professor Nathaniel Frissell of the University of Scranton’s Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering is a well-known radio amateur in America, with call sign W2NAF. He has built a science of using amateur radio to study propagation and ionospheric characteristics, and has drawn a large cohort of amateurs into the studies.

In April this year, a large portion of the central USA will experience a total solar eclipse, and Frissell has created a set of interesting studies to determine the effect of the eclipse on our atmosphere, and on our communications and on natural science. The studies consist of 4 fields.

Chron.com news says that amateur radio citizen scientists will be focused on listening to the eclipse rather than watching it. In Earth’s ionosphere, the upper region of our planet’s atmosphere, the Sun’s energy knocks out electrons from atoms, making the region electrically charged, or ionized. This helps radio transmissions travel long distances. However, once the Sun gets blocked out by the Moon during the eclipse, those communications will be affected. 

Radio amateurs making as many contacts as they can during the eclipse will test the strength of radio signals to observe how the ionosphere changes. The studies should lead to a better understanding of the interactions between the Sun, the ionosphere, and radio wave propagation. That research should benefit hams, professional broadcasters, satellite operators and many other users of radio spectrum.

In a second study, eclipse viewers on or near the path of totality can help scientists map out the Sun using nothing but their smartphone camera. Photos of the solar eclipse uploaded to the database of an app called SunSketcher, which was developed by students at Western Kentucky University, will be analysed to allow scientists to sketch out the true shape of our nearest star. Doing so will help study flows in the solar interior since material flowing within the star is what alters its shape. The project also aims to gather more information about the Sun’s gravitational effects on the planets. 

Thirdly, crowdsourced images of the total solar eclipse will be stitched together to create a film of the once-in-a-lifetime event. The NASA funded Eclipse Megamovie 2024 seeks to “discover the secrets of solar jets and plumes,” according to its description. These solar phenomena tend to disappear or change as they form on the Sun and move out in solar wind. Photographs taken by volunteers will be used to identify solar jets as they leave the Sun’s surface and solar plumes as they grow and develop.

The movie is a sequel to Eclipse Megamovie 2017, in which citizen scientists reportedly submitted tens of thousands of photos of the last solar eclipse visible in the U.S. Their work aided studies of the Sun’s corona, which can only be studied during total solar eclipses. 

And fourthly, the NASA-funded Eclipse Soundscapes Project will study how solar eclipses affect life on Earth, revisiting research from the 1930s that observed the effects the sky’s sudden darkening during the day had on wildlife behaviour. During the upcoming total eclipse, experts will collect audio recorded by citizen scientists on or near the path of totality to analyse the affects disruptions in light have on circadian rhythms and ecosystems. 

So there is plenty to study, and lots to gain from observing the effect of the eclipse on our earth. What a pity very little of the research can be done from South Africa. We can of course attempt to make DX contacts during eclipse time, and aid studies of the potential collapse of the ionosphere during totality, but that’s about it.

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

HAMNET Report 11th February 2024

Hamnet around the country in general, and the Western Cape in particular have been concerned with the major storm that hit the little Karoo a week ago, resulting in major disruptions in electricity to lots of towns, which in turn resulted in inability to pump water to the affected areas, and manage sewage disposal there.

The Western Cape Provincial Administration’s disaster management processes were swiftly activated, and HAMNET members from both sides of the country surrounding the Klein Karoo watched and attended virtual meetings held by the senior disaster managers of the areas.

The ZS4 members from the Vaal triangle monitored radio activity radiating towards them, while Western Cape HAMNET members attended all the disaster meetings held while the large area of the Karoo suffered without any amenities.

Water was trucked in, and large sized generators were swiftly installed in the Laingsburg, Matjiesfontein and Prince Albert areas to supply electricity, as well as keep cell-phone towers operational. Smaller generators were installed in central business areas.

The power outage affected large parts of the interior of the Western Cape when Eskom suffered multiple powerline failures due to the thunderstorms.

Eskom confirmed that 7 powerline towers collapsed over last weekend, and ground crews were currently assessing the damage. In the Central Karoo, Leeugamka, Roggeveld, Merweville, Laingsburg, Matjiesfontein, and Prince Albert were affected. In the Northern Cape, Sutherland and Fraserburg were affected, while in the Garden Route District, the town of Ladismith was affected. In the Overberg District, Napier, and a substantial portion of the surrounding rural farming community, including the area between Wolwengat and Pearly Beach, was also affected.

Expecting no communications between areas around Beaufort West and surrounds, Michael ZS1MJT put out a call for volunteers to run the Western Cape’s two local emergency stations, ZS1DZ at Tygerberg’s Provinicial Emergency Management Centre, and ZS1DCC, the station at the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre in Goodwood.

Humanitarian aid was brought in to the affected areas by volunteer organizations and, by Tuesday, matters were starting to improve. ZS1MJT asked all HAMNET members who could, to monitor 3,760MHz LSB, 5,410MHz USB, 7,110MHz LSB, 10,135MHz USB and 14,300MHz USB, for signs of systems breaking down further.

Obviously, the provision of drinking water, and then of functional sewage management were the two main concerns requiring possible assistance. Thank you to Michael for supplying these details and for his concern.

Grant ZS6GS, our National HAMNET Director, reported the incident to the IARU Region One Emcor authorities.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape Provincial Disaster Management Centre is planning a blackout exercise on 1st March this year, with a view to testing its own internal systems and effectiveness. HAMNET will be involved to test communications between the disaster centres, so the two stations ZS1DZ and ZS1DCC will again be activated.

Aerotime.aero reports that an SAS Scandinavian Airlines Airbus A320 was intercepted and escorted to Manchester Airport following the loss of radio communications between the aircraft and air traffic controllers. The aircraft was en route from Oslo to Manchester at the time of the incident. 

On the morning of February 5, 2024, the Airbus A320 took off from Oslo Airport at 11:19 local time for the two-hour 15-minute flight to Manchester in the north of England. However, as the aircraft crossed the east coast of England and descended towards Manchester, it lost contact with air traffic controllers, and a pair of Typhoons from the RAF QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) force was scrambled to intercept the aircraft. 

Once a rendezvous was made between the three aircraft, communications were re-established by flight SK4609 and the plane eventually landed at Manchester Airport at 12:40 local time, 30 minutes after its scheduled time of arrival. As is standard practice in such circumstances, the SAS plane was escorted by the Typhoons all the way down the approach until it was safely on the ground at Manchester Airport. An airport spokesman explained that it is common practice to escort planes that have lost communications to their final destinations. 

“We understand there to have been a technical fault and comms have now been restored. The flight was destined for Manchester so passengers haven’t been displaced but we have put on extra staff to provide support to any passengers that may need it,” said a spokesperson. 

The RAF QRA force equipped with their supersonic Typhoon crews remains on 24/7 constant standby to respond within minutes to any aircraft experiencing difficulties or to rogue aircraft in or near UK airspace.

3183 cyclists took part yesterday in the second biggest cycle race in the Western Cape, the Gryphon 99er, out of Durbanville northwards to Malmesbury and back to Philadelphia via the old Malmesbury Road. Unlike last year when the weather was so hot and the heat index so high, that the race was stopped more than an hour before the official cut-off time for fear of serious medical complications amongst riders, Saturday dawned cool, with a medium southwester blowing. Skies were clear as the first riders set off at 6am, monitored by a team of ambulances cruising with them, and HAMNET roving marshals stationed strategically along the way.

We had a total of 11 operators grouped in 8 roving vehicles, and another 6 in 3 sets of two, before and after risky areas, with narrow bridges or dangerous corners, warning traffic police to stop advancing cars as the riders swarmed through the danger spots. The JOC was manned by 4 operators, monitoring APRS beacons in three different types of software, as well as choreographing the routes our rovers took, and fielding news of injuries or riders wishing to give up and be picked up by sweep vehicles.

The medical despatch was manned by a Mediclinic doctor, an ambulance service and its despatch officer, the sweep vehicle coordinator, members of the provincial traffic departments of the area, and a safety officer.

The race reached its natural conclusion without major mishap, in spite of a headwind the riders from Malmesbury to Philadelphia struggled against, and the cut-off at 12h30 was achieved

There were two shorter races; one of 57km on tar, and a 60km trip on tar, on gravel and on bike tracks through farmlands. They set off later of course, and finished in amongst the long race riders.

I’d like to thank all our volunteers, too numerous to mention individually, for joining us, having fun, and most importantly helping to make the race a safer one for the 3000 odd riders.

This is a very sleepy Dave Reece ZS1DFR, not having recovered from the lack of sleep yet, as I report for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 4th February 2024

GDACS has been reporting all week on the wildfires ravaging areas around the Western Cape, in the presence of the current heatwave. They note evacuations and widespread damage.

According to the JRC Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS), as of 31st January, the total burnt area across the affected region was approximately 25,000 ha. A number of these wildfires are currently still under containment.

Media report, as of 1st February, around 250 displaced people and dozens of damaged houses in the Overberg District Municipality and the Cape Winelands District Municipality. Over the next 24 hours, according to the JRC GWIS, the fire danger forecast is still expected to be from high to extreme across the already affected areas.

The Western Cape government has approached the National Disaster Management Centre for Disaster Classification.

“A provincial disaster classification will empower the premier and the minister of finance to move funding as and when we need it to sustain our firefighting efforts,” said local government MEC, Anton Bredell.

According to Bredell, the hot and windy weather conditions, combined with several wildfires burning in the Cape Winelands and Overstrand districts, necessitated a large and co-ordinated firefighting effort.

“We have the necessary resources available to address the wildfires, but the disaster declaration will give us the ability to co-ordinate optimally. We are doing everything to protect lives and property,” he said.

Since Monday, fires have engulfed Hangklip between Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay, destroying several homes and forcing evacuations.

Overstrand municipal manager, Dean O’Neill, reported on Thursday that the fire in Hangklip had flared up again.

On the other side of the province, the Cape Winelands District Municipality’s (CWDM) Fire Services and teams spent an anxious night monitoring and battling multiple fires in Rawsonville, Worcester and Wolseley.

Massive flames have been burning throughout the area for nine days.

CWDM spokesperson, Jo-Anne Otto, said over 30 000 hectares of land had already been destroyed there.

“At Kluitjieskraal and Wolseley, 27 200 ha have been burned. The Brandvlei fire, which is ongoing, has so far seen 3 700ha, and the Fairy Glen fire 2 200ha,” Otto confirmed.

The South African Weather Service yesterday also cautioned that extremely high fire danger conditions were expected over the West Coast and Cape Winelands on Friday.

Otto said: “The hot weather impacts our ability to fight the fire, it’s hot and there are real dangers of dehydration and heat exhaustion.”

These reports come from various sources.

Writing in universetoday.com about the rocky materials retrieved from the Asteroid Bennu and delivered back to earth last year, Evan Gough says that Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid, a primitive chunk of rock that forms a link to the past when the rocky planets were forming. Scientists have already found carbon and water in the previously removed material. In fact, according to initial analysis, its carbon concentration is close to 5%. That’s among the highest non-terrestrial carbon percentages ever measured. “The OSIRIS-REx sample is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth and will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our own planet for generations to come,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Once scientists get their hands on more of the material, they’ll doubtlessly find other interesting components. Maybe even some of life’s building blocks like amino acids. Bennu’s water and carbon content could indicate that life’s building blocks originated in asteroids like Bennu.

The sample also gives researchers an opportunity to test their findings against previous observations of Bennu. Astronomers studied the asteroid’s composition with OSIRIS-REx’s instruments as it approached Bennu, and the samples will tell them how accurate their efforts were. It’s an opportunity to verify and improve spacecraft instruments and remote sensing methods.

Scientists suspect that Bennu could actually be older than our Solar System. If that’s true, then it’s a window into the distant past when only the solar nebula and the proto-Sun existed. It may contain insights into how everything formed, including the Sun.

Bennu may also be one of the remaining pieces of a much larger body. Scientists think that the parent body broke apart between 700 million and two billion years ago. Scientists hope to learn more from the Bennu sample about its parent body and how Bennu migrated to the inner Solar System.

In a notable act of foresight, 75% of the sample will be stored for the future. Instruments and analysis techniques will only improve over time, and these pristine samples will be available when they do. NASA has done the same with other materials like lunar samples, and it’s paid off.

The Bennu samples can only enhance our understanding of our Solar System and how everything came to be. From its ancient early beginnings in the solar nebula to its present-day location in the inner Solar System, Bennu is a well-travelled message-bearer. Now that we have some of that message in our labs, scientists can reveal what Bennu has to say.

This coming Saturday the 10th of February sees the riding of the Gryphon 99er cycle race out of Durbanville in the Cape, in the general direction of Malmesbury, on a 100km round trip back to Durbanville again. HAMNET Western Cape has assisted with rover duties and communications for about 17 years now (except for the Covid years), and will be at it again this week.

Nineteen HAMNET members will be involved with eight roving stations, three danger points which will occupy 2 members each, one before, and one after each danger point, and 3 members in the JOC. APRS trackers will be utilised to keep track of course marshals, and roving hams, and two different APRS software methods will be tested in comparison with each other, to attempt to identify the better one.

February in Cape Town is notorious for hot weather, as I noted in the previous report above, and last year’s race was stopped due to extreme temperatures at about 11am, with an hour of riding still to go. We sincerely hope the same won’t happen this year. I hope to be able to include a report-back in next week’s bulletin.

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