HAMNET Report 31st December 2023

Extreme weather in the forms of storms and heavy rainfall in the eastern half of the country has seen the forecast I mentioned of floods in the Newcastle region last week almost take place.

But it wasn’t Newcastle that bore the brunt, it was Ladysmith in northern KZN, where mopping up operations are still taking place. At least 14 people have been identified as killed by the floods, but there are at least 10 still missing, and their names are likely to be added to the list of lost souls after rescue work is over. The rain and flooding started on Christmas Eve, and now, a full week later, the tragedies of lost family members are still unfolding.

With roads from KZN back in the general direction of Gauteng Province starting to get busier this coming week, we don’t need more extreme weather to make those roads more treacherous, and the drivers lose their skills.

There is a saying here in the Western Cape that, when it rains, as it does all winter, people forget how to drive safely. I hope the same isn’t true of the rest of the country.

Talking of water and flooding, I wonder how many of you remembered the 19th anniversary of the Indonesian earthquake and Tsunami of 2004 that claimed over 230000 lives around the rim of the north Indian Sea.

And the remarkable use that amateur radio was put to on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? The effort to reunite families on the islands was led by a New Delhi housewife, Bharathi Prasad VU2RBI. She was visiting the islands’ capital, Port Blair to set up its first ham radio station when the disaster struck, and the chain of 570 islands was cut off from the world.

But within hours, Bharathi Prasad put up her radio with the use of a hotel generator, and reached out to other ham operators. Soon she and six colleagues were conveying thousands of messages to and from the islands.

In similar vein, hams from the Indian subcontinent, from Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other parts of Indonesia did what they could, often without structured electricity grids to carry the messages of hope, survival, and often tragedy, as the death tolls mounted.

That all happened on Boxing Day 2004. It is amazing to think that 2024 will see the 20th anniversary of that disaster.

News from airtrafficmanagement.net is that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has approved the use of satellites to support voice and data communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. The approval was announced in Dubai at the World Radio Congress in December 2023. This approval will lead to substantial improvements in the safety, sustainability, efficiency and passenger experience of air transport.

Voice and data radio communications in the VHF band are used for communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. VHF radios are standard aircraft equipment around the world and are vital in ensuring the safety of air travel. Currently, VHF voice communications services are only available when the aircraft is within range of a ground-based radio. This means that large areas of the Earth’s surface, including much of the world’s oceans, are not covered. The use of satellites in place of ground-based radio systems will enable seamless global real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers for the first time.

The use of space-enabled services supporting pilots and air traffic controllers will:

  • Improve safety by providing real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers to maintain correct separations between aircraft.
  • Reduce environmental emissions from aviation by allowing the most efficient routes to be flown by aircraft.
  • Increase efficiency of the aviation industry by reducing fuel consumption and reducing flight delays.
  • Improve the passenger experience by improving on-time performance. The cost of flight delays in the United States, Europe and Australia has been estimated at US$67.5 billion per year.

The approval follows [a company called] Skykraft’s world-first demonstration of space-to-ground voice communications systems operating in the VHF band, carried out in south-western Australia in July 2023. Skykraft’s trial of space-based voice communications in the VHF aviation band demonstrates the feasibility of satellite communication directly with aircraft using existing equipment.

Skykraft is developing a constellation of satellites to provide VHF-band communications services and surveillance services to track aircraft from 2025.

Thanks to airtrafficmanagement.net for the news. Hopefully, Skycraft’s systems, or others like it, will quickly span the globe and make air transport communications even more safe and guaranteed.

In a news item dated the 27th December, the ARRL says that 2023 has been a remarkable year for amateur radio. There were many noteworthy opportunities for hams to use their license privileges for the greater good. An annular solar eclipse saw radio amateurs engaging in projects of scientific research about our ionosphere, devastating firestorms gutted entire cities and saw Amateur Radio Emergency Service member-volunteers rise to activate, hurricanes threatened life and property, bicycle races spread across the desert necessitated robust communications provided by hams, and high school students led and executed contacts with the International Space Station. Many amateur radio operators stood to serve in ways that made headlines, and all of them were volunteers.

Commenting further, the Relay League reminds us of volunteer examiners who supervised amateur licensing exams, traffic net managers who handled traffic from hams checking in, and even the unsung mentors who helped newcomers on a one on one basis. Most of these volunteers did not get their names in lights.

The ARRL designated 2023 as the Year of the Volunteer to recognize these people’s efforts, and to encourage new prospective volunteers to follow their lead.

We have a small squad of like-minded volunteers in this country, and I’m sure the SARL, and especially HAMNET would encourage more to become volunteers in the hobby. It is a funny fact that you get more OUT of an activity when you put more IN to it, and this is also true of amateur radio. So, make only one New Year’s resolution this year, and let that be to volunteer your services to ham radio more than you already do! On behalf of us all in the hobby, I thank you.

I now grab this opportunity to wish you all a healthy, happy and safe New Year, and look forward to seeing the spirit of volunteerism even stronger amongst the amateur radio community, as we use our knowledge and experience to be of assistance to our fellow South Africans. Thank you to all our volunteers who give selflessly of their time, with the surreptitious knowledge that their hobby is more fun when they do!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa, and looking forward to serving you again in 2024.

HAMNET Report 24th December 2023

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all those for whom this time of year is very special, a very happy festive season, no matter your faith. May your time spent with loved ones be memorable, and your relaxation complete.

If you are on holiday, and driving, please take extra special care, because you have no idea what the state of mind of the oncoming driver is. Drive carefully and defensively, and arrive alive, as the saying goes.

GDACS reports on the earthquake of magnitude 5.9 at a depth of 10 km which occurred in Gansu Province in China on 18th December at 15.59 UTC. The epicentre was located approximately 37 km west-northwest of Linxia Chengguanzhen and 100 km south-west of Lanzhou City, the capital and the largest city of Gansu Province.

At least four aftershocks of magnitude between 4.2 and 4.6 have been recorded in the area. USGS PAGER estimates that up to 117,000 people were exposed to very strong shaking and up to 158,000 to strong shaking.

National authorities are in the field with rescue and emergency operations. At least 4,000 firefighters, soldiers, and police officers were dispatched in the rescue efforts.

According to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, as of 20th December, at least 127 people died, of whom 113 were in the Gansu Province and 14 more across the Qinghai Province. In addition, media also report more than 700 injured people and approximately 5,000 damaged buildings across both the affected provinces.

Meanwhile, there have been tropical cyclones affecting parts of Australia and Philippines, flooding in India and KZN (in the Dundee area), severe weather in eastern states of the USA, and floods and flood warnings reported for Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and the UK. So weather extremes continue to affect the globe. It appears that dramatic weather has no regard for holiday seasons amongst mankind.

And, as I write this, the air in Cape Town is heavy with the smell of burnt fynbos, and the sky takes on an orange hue from the extensive fire which is still burning above Simonstown and beyond to Glencairn . The Southeaster has been accentuated by the up-currents of hot air from the fires, resulting in the rapid spread of the fire in the deep south of the Peninsula. As you probably know, fynbos needs regular fires to remove ragged old bush, and allow the germination of new flora, so all is not lost, but the speed of spread of the fire has been very alarming.

GDACS notes that more than 300 firefighters have been involved, of whom 7 have been injured, and at least 96 families have been evacuated from their homes in one area. By Friday, an area of 1430 hectares had already been burnt in the fire.

Now here’s some space age technology for you. Interestingengineering.com says that Rydberg Technologies Inc., a leading company in Rydberg quantum technologies and radio frequency (RF) quantum sensing, has announced the successful demonstration of the world’s first long-range radio communications using an atomic quantum sensor with their small size weight and power (SWaP) atomic receiver. This demonstration, Rydberg Technologies announces, took place at the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) C5ISR Centre Network Modernization Experiment 2023 (NetModX23) event, which serves as a proving ground for next-generation technologies for communications and intelligence.

An atomic quantum sensor is a highly advanced type of sensor that utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics. It specifically uses the properties of atoms in quantum states to measure physical quantities with exceptional precision and accuracy.

Atomic quantum sensors have a wide range of applications, including fundamental physics research, navigation systems such as advanced versions of gyroscopes, geological surveying for measuring gravitational variations, medical imaging, and more. They are particularly useful in environments where traditional electronic sensors might fail or be less effective.

Rydberg Technologies has developed atomic quantum sensors that utilize something called “Rydberg atoms.” These atoms are excited to extremely high energy levels, which makes them incredibly sensitive to electromagnetic fields. Rydberg Technologies explains that this sensitivity is particularly beneficial for communication and electromagnetic field sensing applications.

“The Rydberg atomic receiver device exhibited unparalleled sensitivity across the high-frequency (HF) to super high-frequency (SHF) bands and demonstrated over-the-air atomic RF communication at long range,” Rydberg Technologies said in a press release. “This historic demonstration occurred in an operationally relevant environment, with the atomic receiver setting new industry standards in size, performance, and environmental resilience for Rydberg atom quantum sensors,” they added.

Rydberg atomic receivers are a new type of receiver with several unique features. They are highly sensitive and selective and can cover a wide range of frequencies using a single atomic detector element. These devices can significantly change RF surveillance, safety, communications, and networking capabilities from long-wavelength RF to millimetre-wave and THz bands.

The technology demonstrated signal selectivity, low detection probability, and immunity to interference in contested electromagnetic environments. The successful deployment of this technology in real-world conditions, as noted by Rydberg, indicates a significant step forward in transitioning quantum technologies from laboratory settings to practical applications.

Thank you to interestingengineering.com for those excerpts from their report. I wonder how tiny our handheld radios will become if we start using a Rydberg Atom to sense the electromagnetic radiation from a distant transmitter. Dick Tracy’s wrist-watch radio will well and truly become real!

In a similar area of communications experiment, jpl.nasa.gov says that NASA succeeded in sending ultra-high definition streaming video on 11th December from the satellite Psyche, a record-setting 31 million kilometres away. The milestone is part of a NASA technology demonstration aimed at streaming very high-bandwidth video and other data from deep space – enabling future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

The demo transmitted the 15-second test video via a cutting-edge instrument called a flight laser transceiver. The video signal took 101 seconds to reach Earth, sent at the system’s maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps). Capable of sending and receiving near-infrared signals, the instrument beamed an encoded near-infrared laser to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, where it was downloaded. Each frame from the looping video was then sent “live” to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the video was played in real time.

Uploaded before launch, the short ultra-high definition video features an orange tabby cat named Taters, the pet of a JPL employee, chasing a laser pointer, with overlaid graphics. The graphics illustrate several features from the tech demo, such as Psyche’s orbital path, Palomar’s telescope dome, and technical information about the laser and its data bit rate. Tater’s heart rate, colour, and breed are also on display.

Do bear in mind, it is only about 120 years ago, that Marconi and his pals were battling to get an RF signal from England to Newfoundland!

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

HAMNET Report 17th December 2023

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, he of HAMNET KZN has sent me a report of the Upper Highway Trail Marathon held last Saturday. He says:

“Saturday 9th December, HAMNET KZN once again partnered with S.T.A.R.T Rescue to assist with communications for this annual event. S.T.A.R.T (Specialised Tactical Accident Rescue Team) consists of Netcare 911, Rescuetech, K9 Search & Rescue and their Horse Unit. 10 HAMNET KZN members were deployed, 2 of whom are active members of the S.T.A.R.T Rescue team.

“A Joint Operations Centre (JOC) was established at the beautiful finish venue of Camp Orchards in Hillcrest that was manned by Provincial Director Keith Lowes ZS5WFD for HAMNET and Justin Wright ZS5JW for the S.T.A.R.T team members.  HAMNET made use of the Highway Amateur Radio Club’s 145.7625 repeater situated in Kloof which gave excellent coverage of the whole route taking runners through 7 nature conservancies, 6 river eco-systems, 3 waterfalls and some of the most beautiful trails in the area.

“111 runners started the 42Km race at 05H30 with 5 Water Points, whilst 400 runners started the 17Km event at 06H00 with 2 Water Points en route.

“Weather conditions were ideal with cloud, overcast conditions and light rain for the duration. I am pleased to report that there were no serious medical emergencies.

“This was our final sporting event for the year, [so] thank you to my HAMNET KZN team for their dedication and loyal support during the year. You may take a well-earned break with your families but please remain vigilant and be available should a call for HAMNET’s assistance be received during the festive period.”

Thank you for the report Keith, congratulations to the KZN team on your regular and efficient handling of sporting events; and congratulations to you too, on a recent birthday. Hope you have many more like it!

On Friday morning the 15th of December, an unexpected HAMNET simulated emergency exercise was launched. At 06h30 that morning, local time, HAMNET National Director Grant ZS6GS released a report that an imaginary earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale had struck South Africa at 04h35 that morning.

Widespread destruction had ensued, leading to chaos and multiple injuries. HAMNET operators were to “survey the area” they were currently in and report to the “local authorities” via a central Operations Station. If no Ops Centre was available, they and anyone else on air were tasked to establish one.

All central operations stations were required to relay the reports to the National Coordination Centre.

Local repeaters for local Central Ops stations were to be used, with backup by HF, or digital modes such as Winlink, JS8Call, or VarAC; but DMR, IRLP or Echolink were forbidden, because the internet had failed during the exercise.

HAMNET’s current emergency frequency bandplans were to be employed.

Imaginary situations were to be created, including numbers of injured, damage to major structures or infrastructure in their area, as well as requirements for support. Strategic buildings such as hospitals and police stations were to be included, and a report compiled to be sent via radio to another operator or control station, using the IARU Region 1 messaging format for messages.

On all occasions, radio transmissions were to include the fact that this was an exercise and that no action was required.

After their stint was over, and the exercise closed, operators were to email their participation to the National Directorate, for reconciliation between messages sent and those received.

In the Western Cape, the Disaster Control Centre station at the Disaster Risk Management centre in Goodwood ZS1DCC was activated by 07h00 by ZS1MJT, who then fielded reports from a variety of suburbs, mostly on VHF FM frequencies, but also including APRS monitoring, with message handling as well.

By about 10h30, the chatter in Div 1 had died down, and Michael ZS1MJT collected the messages received, and closed down the control station.

It will be interesting to hear what activity took place in other divisions, and how religiously HAMNET members stuck to the script.

Thanks to Grant ZS6GS for choreographing the exercise. I sure hope we never do have an 8.7 magnitude earthquake in our land!

Now, how many of you believe, like me, that doctors are useless communicators? In interviews with patients who had seen other professionals, I was often astonished at how little the patients had been told by their doctors.

Reporting from the Boston School of Medicine, medicalxpress.com says that teaching is an integral communication skill central to the practice of medicine. The art of teaching extends beyond disseminating information. The skill directly translates to health provider-patient communication, the success of which is positively correlated with improved patient outcomes.

“Teaching is a large part of medicine—patient education is critical to providing high-quality patient-centred care. Education helps patients understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of their treatments and allows them to be better participants in their own care and in shared decision making,” said author Susan White, MD, assistant professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

In an effort to foster near-peer inter-professional teaching and teamwork, the school has developed a curriculum using medical students as teaching assistants, called Educational Fellows, to work with students studying to become physician assistants (PA’s).

“Our Educational Fellows curriculum allows medical students to learn the art of teaching (pedagogy) and learning theory and to practice what they had learned in working with PA students in the classroom,” explains White, who also is director of the Physician Assistant program at the school. “We expect that the Educational Fellow experience will make those medical students better prepared for patient education.”

White and her colleagues present their experiences and lessons learned from establishing this program that 1) introduces select medical students to PA students in the context of a near-peer teaching framework during pre-clinical training; 2) trains the medical students in best practices of teaching and learning; and 3) provides an additional source of instructors for introductory science courses.

White believes the program could be modified for other training programs that use peer-peer or near-peer teaching for tutoring or as teaching assistants.

For example, PA students might work with students in nursing or physical therapy to provide tutoring or assistance in a lab setting, or Ph.D. graduate students might be teaching assistants for undergraduate courses. She hopes that all graduate-level programs in medicine will adopt the curriculum better to prepare their graduates to teach and educate their patients, whether it be bedside nurses teaching patients home care skills, or surgeons explaining a complex procedure.

Well, HAMNET members are skilled communicators. I’m sure we could teach doctors a thing or two.

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

HAMANET Report 10th December 2023

Reliefweb.int has reported that after a long period of drought, heavy rainfall hit the countries in the Horn of Africa in October and November 2023. The arid soil could not absorb the water, resulting in devastating floods in many areas.

The floods in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan have been particularly destructive. The people of East Africa waited in vain for the rainy season for several years, before the climate phenomenon El Niño brought abundant rainfall. The floods are a typical consequence of long periods of drought: The water cannot soak into the completely dried-out upper layers of the earth and eventually runs off in sometimes torrential streams. Weather forecasts predict even more rain in the coming weeks, meaning further flooding is expected.

In Somalia, over 450,000 people have left their homes and fled to higher ground. Two hundred and forty thousand people have evacuated in Ethiopia, and 150,000 in Kenya, where over 100 people have died. In the entire region between Sudan and Tanzania, over 3.1 million people have been affected by the disaster in one way or another.

The damage is enormous: in Kenya alone, the water has drowned over 2,000 farm animals and flooded large areas of agricultural land. There is **limited access to drinking water and **food, and many people have lost all their household items and valuables, making it a challenge to meet even the basic needs of those forced to evacuate. There is a risk of disease outbreaks. Members of vulnerable groups need accommodation and access to essential services.

There is an 80% probability that the effects of El Niño will last until at least May 2024. These effects could mean that those who have evacuated cannot return to their homes and earn a living for a long time. The last El Niño phenomenon in 2019 brought flooding and landslides, it affected 330,000 people in Kenya alone and 160,000 of them had to leave their homes. That number of people has almost already been reached again this year, after just a few weeks.

GDACS has been reporting since Tuesday this week on a new tropical storm named MICHAUNG which formed over the western Bay of Bengal on 3 December very early in the morning (UTC) and started moving north-west toward central-eastern India. On 4 December at 6.00 UTC its centre was located over the sea approximately 85 km east of the border between Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh States, with maximum sustained winds of 102 km/h as a tropical storm.

On the forecast track, MICHAUNG was forecast to make landfall over the area of coastal City of Nizampatnam, central-northern Andra Pradesh State on 5 December very early in the afternoon (UTC), with maximum sustained winds up to 92 km/h.

Over the following 48 hours, very heavy rainfall and strong winds were forecast over the northern Tamil Nadu and the whole Andra Pradesh States. Storm surges were also forecast over the central and northern coastal Andra Pradesh State.

According to media reports, at least 16 people died in Tamil Nadu State due to severe weather-related incidents, as heavy rains affected Chennai and surrounding areas. In Andra Pradesh State, authorities evacuated over 9,000 people to 236 relief camps in eight coastal districts and were preparing to evacuate 28,000 others.

Hamsci.org has reported that Dr. Nathaniel Frissell W2NAF, Lead Organizer for HamSCI and assistant professor of Physics and Engineering at the University of Scranton, has announced that its latest paper, “Heliophysics and Amateur Radio: Citizen Science Collaborations For Atmospheric, Ionospheric, And Space Physics Research And Operations,” has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Astronomy and Space Science*.

The paper reviews the history of amateur radio and science back to 1912, with the greatest emphasis on results that have emerged in the last decade. Dr. Frissell stressed the importance of this work by noting “This paper is the result of expanding and combining two white papers submitted to the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics) 2024-2033, which helps the United States to establish research priorities for the next ten years. As such, this paper not only reviews past results, but also provides recommendations for amateur radio – professional science collaborations in the future from both technical and community-building perspectives.”

*Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences is a multidisciplinary journal that unravels the mysteries of the universe and explores planetary science and extragalactic astronomy in all wavelengths.

Yesterday, the 9th of December was an interesting day for those of you, who have wondered about comets, or who know what happened in 1911 or 1986. Those were the years in which the most famous comet of them all, Halley’s comet, came closest to earth as it swung by the son on its 75 year orbit. When close to the son a comet travels very fast and leaves a long dust tail that can be visible.

When a comet swings out away from the son, it slows down, and reaches its furthest point, called its aphelion very slowly. Well, yesterday Halley reached aphelion, 37 years after perihelion, and now starts the long trek back to swing past the son in the year 2061.

Because its dust tail gets less as it leaves the son, it becomes less and less visible, and was last seen in the Very Large Telescope in 2003 as a magnitude +28 object. That is frightfully dim.

A very clever chap born near Stuttgart in Germany in the middle fifteen hundreds, called Johannes Kepler, published his three laws of planetary motion, which are still valid today to calculate why Halley is where it is, between 1609 and 1619. It is astonishing that such intense mathematical ability was already available even before Isaac Newton was born. The equations are very complex for idiots like me!

HAMNET National Director Grant Southey ZS6GS has sent a note of greetings and thanks to his regional deputies as the year winds down.

He thanks them all for the hard work and dedication shown during the year, and expresses gratitude for the work done to make HAMNET a better organization. While wishing all a pleasant break, he reminds them that disasters and incidents do not have holidays, so all need to be ready always and prepared for any eventuality that may arise.

On behalf of the general HAMNET membership, I’d like to thank Grant for continuing to steer the ship in a forward direction, and greet him and all the regional staff on your behalf.

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

HAMNET Report 3rd December 2023

Commercial air crews are reporting something “unthinkable” in the skies above the Middle East.

Brian Jacobs, ZS6YZ, our Deputy National Hamnet Director drew my attention to an article by Matthew Gault in vice.com, which notes that novel “spoofing” attacks have caused navigation systems to fail in dozens of incidents since September. 

In late September, multiple commercial flights near Iran went astray after navigation systems went blind. The planes first received spoofed GPS signals, meaning signals designed to fool planes’ systems into thinking they are flying miles away from their real location. One of the aircraft almost flew into Iranian airspace without permission. Since then, air crews discussing the problem online have said it’s only gotten worse, and experts are racing to establish who is behind it.

OPSGROUP, an international group of pilots and flight technicians, sounded the alarm about the incidents in September and began to collect data to share with its members and the public. According to OPSGROUP, multiple commercial aircraft in the Middle Eastern region have lost the ability to navigate after receiving spoofed navigation signals for months. And it’s not just GPS — fall-back navigation systems are also corrupted, resulting in total failure.

According to OPSGROUP, the activity is centred in three regions: Baghdad, Cairo, and Tel Aviv. They have tracked more than 50 incidents in the last five weeks, the group said in a November update, and identified three new and distinct kinds of navigation spoofing incidents, with two arising since the initial reports in September. 

While GPS spoofing is not new, the specific vector of these new attacks was previously “unthinkable,” according to OPSGROUP, which described them as exposing a “fundamental flaw in avionics design.” The spoofing corrupts the Inertial Reference System, a piece of equipment often described as the “brain” of an aircraft that uses gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other tech to help planes navigate. One expert Motherboard spoke to said this was “highly significant.” 

“This immediately sounds unthinkable,” OPSGROUP said in its public post about the incidents. “The IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a standalone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all on-board nav capability, and have to ask [air traffic control] for our position and request a heading, makes little sense at first glance— especially for state of the art aircraft with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened.”

Thanks for the interesting, if worrying, report, Brian.

Danie ZS1OSS, of HAMNET Western Cape has reported on the latest City of Cape Town/Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant disaster exercise which was held last Thursday the 29th at the Disaster Risk Management Centre in Goodwood. He notes that HAMNET is always present as an observer, noting how things pan out, learning where the communications weakness might be, and ready to provide amateur radio ideas to aid communications during the exercise, or in a real disaster. Danie was joined by Ian ZS1BR as HAMNET representatives, monitoring the “action” and the associated communications. It turned out not to be necessary to activate our radio room upstairs in the building during the exercise. Thanks for the report, Danie.

Writing in Science News, Jake Beuhler says that nesting chinstrap penguins take nodding off to the extreme. The birds briefly dip into a slumber many thousands of times per day, sleeping for only seconds at a time. 

The penguins’ breeding colonies are noisy and stressful places, and threats from predatory birds and aggressive neighbouring penguins are unrelenting. The extremely disjointed sleep schedule may help the penguins to protect their young while still getting enough shut-eye, researchers report in the Dec. 1 Science

The findings add to evidence “that avian sleep can be very different from the sleep of land mammals,” says UCLA neuroscientist Jerome Siegel

Nearly a decade ago, behavioural ecologist Won Young Lee of the Korea Polar Research Institute in Incheon noticed something peculiar about how chinstrap penguins nesting on Antarctica’s King George Island were sleeping. They would seemingly doze off for very short periods of time in their cacophonous colonies. Then in 2018, Lee learned about frigate birds’ ability to steal sleep while airborne on days-long flights. 

Lee teamed up with sleep ecophysiologist Paul-Antoine Libourel of the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre in France and other researchers to investigate the penguins’ sleep. In 2019, the team studied the daily sleep patterns of 14 nesting chinstrap penguins using data loggers mounted on the birds’ backs. The devices had electrodes surgically implanted into the penguins’ brains for measuring brain activity. Other instruments on the data loggers recorded the animals’ movements and location.

Nesting chinstrap penguins grab seconds of sleep at a time, perhaps so they can stay alert enough to defend chicks and eggs from predators, and to ward off aggressive neighbour penguins. Nesting penguins had incredibly fragmented sleep patterns, taking over 600 “microsleeps” an hour, and each averaging only four seconds, the researchers found. At times, the penguins slept with only half of their brain; the other half stayed awake. Altogether, the oodles of snoozes added up, providing over 11 hours of sleep for each brain hemisphere across more than 10,000 brief sleeps each day. 

Some marine mammals and other types of birds have strange or restricted sleep patterns too, often when staying alert is important. Dolphins can sleep with half their brain at a time, letting them remain vigilant for over two weeks straight. To stay wary of predators, mallard ducks can sleep with one half of their brain at a time too, and elephant seals dramatically reduce their sleeping hours while out at sea. But the sheer number of microsleeps seen in chinstrap penguins is unprecedented among animals, Lee says.

“It seems that the penguins do not have any time where they decrease their vigilance,” Libourel says. “just a slight increase of microsleep-bout length around noon.”

The sleep pattern may help the penguins balance the brain’s need for rest with the demands of nesting. Predatory birds like brown skuas patrol penguin colonies looking to plunder undefended eggs and chicks. “Penguin parents should be vigilant all the time during breeding to keep their offspring safe,” Lee says. There’s also constant commotion and noise in the colony disrupting sleep. Such extremely interrupted sleep may reflect the penguins’ flexibility in handling the stressors of raising chicks.

The many micronaps did appear to be at least partially restorative to their brains, since the studied penguins were able to function well enough both to survive and successfully raise their chicks. It’s unclear if the penguins’ sleep pattern changes after the breeding season.

“Sleep seems to be very diverse and flexible among species,” Lee says. “I believe that there are still many things unrevealed about animal sleep. By studying their sleep behaviour, we can understand how animals have evolved to achieve brain restoration.”

Hmm – 10000 micronaps a day, he says. I think my sleep pattern during interminable Varsity lectures was much the same!

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