HAMNET REPORT 20th June 2021

First of all, a grand Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. I hope you are spoiled no more and no less than you spoiled your wives on Mother’s Day! Enjoy being with your families!

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, HAMNET Regional Director for KZN, has sent me a report of the 70.3 Ironman Event held in Durban’s beachfront area on the 6th of June. He says he “had a team of 7 Hamnet KZN members who assisted with communications for the event. Race control was manned by Keith ZS5WFD and Deon ZS5DD based at Pirates Lifesaving Club in front of Suncoast Casino complex opposite the old Natal Command building.  Due to Covid-19 restrictions the number of participants was only 830, which was considerably lower than the 3000 from 2019. The event was therefore categorized as “Low Risk”.

“The event consisted of a 1,9Km swim at uShaka Beach, two laps of the bike stage along the M4 Ruth First highway out to Umdloti and back which made 90.1Km, then a leisurely run of 2 laps along the promenade between New Beach and Blue Lagoon covering 21.1Km.

“Communications were maintained on 145.550 Simplex and the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club Repeater and I am pleased to report that there were no serious incidents.

“It felt really good to be out and about doing what we enjoy!!” said Keith.

Thanks for that Keith. I’m glad you were able to squeeze that in before the effect of the COVID-19 third wave began to be felt. I expect it will be a while now before we all get to help at similar events.

With America’s vaccination programme proceeding smoothly, and the number of cases not climbing from the India Coronavirus variant as much as in Europe, American Hams are gearing up for their Field Day exercise which takes place next weekend the 26th and 27th of June. Obviously distancing and exposure rules will be followed, but at least the number of amateurs on the air will increase, so look out for unexpected DX next weekend.

The ARRL Letter of June the 16th reports that on May 31, the ARES LAX (Los Angeles, California) Northeast District conducted its fifth Saturday Exercise – dubbed SatEx and themed “Return of the Operators” – which was deemed a “smashing success.” Assistant District Emergency Coordinator for the Hollywood district, David Ahrendts, KK6DA, was credited with devising a challenging exercise scenario that included deteriorating conditions and focused on building an ad hoc network of stations for the response.

The exercise began with a simulated earthquake at 08h30. Participating stations sent DYFI (Did You Feel It) reports to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and welfare messages to their out-of-state contacts through HF and VHF gateways. Stations were encouraged to use the K6YZF-11 VARA FM digipeater to connect to Winlink hybrid RF/email gateways AJ7C, W6BI and K6IRF.

At 09h00 the hospital net commenced operation on the southern California Disaster Amateur Radio Network (DARN) and stations with digital traffic were directed to ARES 501 (local designation for an emergency simplex frequency) to pass hospital traffic to the Medical Alert Centre (MAC). No infrastructure digipeaters were to be used, simulating deteriorating conditions post-event. In an ironic twist, life imitated exercise with conditions actually deteriorating on the 2-meter band after 09h00. However, without skipping a beat, stations affected asked for relays, and digipeater operators and other stations offered to act as relays and digipeaters. Their training kicked in and stations overcame adverse conditions effectively.

Hospital stations sent a list of check-ins, Hospital Status Assessments, Resource Requests, and check-outs using Winlink. Beaconed Hospital Service Levels using APRS were transmitted to the MAC station during the exercise. The MAC station responded with acknowledgements and replies containing simulated approvals and ETAs for resources requested. In some cases the traffic was sent directly to the MAC; in others, stations coordinated digipeats of messages through other hospital stations.

Reports were received of problems encountered during the exercise.

  • Powering stations remainrd an ongoing challenge. Solar panels and high capacity batteries paired with low current draw devices proved effective remedies for some stations.
  • Location. While some hospital stations enjoyed rooftop access, others had to operate at street level, often surrounded by buildings. It was impressive how the latter stations overcame their location challenges through creativity and teamwork. Digipeating through other hospital stations, for example, proved an effective remedy.
  • Antenna height and location. Several stations commented on field antenna height and/or location as challenges at their sites. Mitigation suggestions from those stations included trying different deployment systems, relocating antennas and trying directional antennas going forward

Successes evident from the exercise:

  • Operators are well trained and displayed excellent esprit de corps.
  • Traffic handling was effective in spite of challenging conditions.
  • Regular training and practice prior to the exercise helped overcome in-the-field challenges during the exercise.
  • Operators acted in calm, collected, professional manners and worked well together as a team.
  • Even without infrastructure, stations were able to pass traffic, building an ad hoc network of hospital stations.

Thanks to the ARRL for the story of this successful exercise.

Here’s a happy story of new technology helping a legally blind radio operator, Ben Murray KD8JBS, see with 20/20 vision.

Ben wears an eSight device, which resembles virtual reality goggles. The technology uses a camera to process an image in real time. The image is then re-processed through some algorithms in the glasses and then presented back to the user on two OLED screens in front of his eyes, and he can zoom up to 24x and adjust contrast.

As a radio amateur, Murray’s favourite activities incorporate a public service bent. “I enjoy hamfests and Volunteer Examiner testing sessions. I’m the VE liaison for Williams County, Ohio, and I’m the Emergency Coordinator,” he told ARRL. “I also enjoy public service activities such as festivals and parades where they include amateur radio [for] communications.”

Murray has been a ham since 2008. He upgraded to Amateur Extra class in 2012.

Clearly there’s a lot of technology built in to the headband he wears around his head with the OLED screens perched just above the centre point of his eyes, so he can see both the eSight screens, and below them for nearby awareness.

Thanks to this week’s ARRL Letter for that story.

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

HAMNET Report 13th June 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that a new report by two Canadian researchers is highlighting the growing hazard of space debris. It warns that the new mega-constellations of tens of thousands of communication satellites could pose a new kind of danger that could ultimately threaten other satellites, astronauts, our ability to use space and could even have an impact on the climate.

Recently, that uncontrolled fall from space of a large Chinese rocket booster gained worldwide attention as no one could predict where it would come crashing to Earth. Fortunately, it came down in the Indian Ocean and no one was injured.

That was just one booster.

The amount of stuff from satellites, discarded boosters and other debris in Earth orbit is huge. And this new report warns that with projects like the SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation, the issue of space debris could approach a critical turning point.

In the light of that, it came as bad news that Fraser Cain, writing in Universe Today, notes that a piece of space flotsam was discovered to have hit the Canadarm2 Robotic arm on the ISS. Fortunately the damage was to the arm boom and its thermal blanket, and doesn’t seem to have affected its operation at all – a lucky break indeed. These bits of debris can be travelling at the speed of a bullet on earth, and have no difficulty in causing a penetrating injury to their target. The ISS is lucky to have escaped any major injuries so far.

In clever use of drone technology, the international ResponDrone project has integrated into its situation awareness system for emergency situations a near real-time 3D mapping solution to provide on-site emergency teams with tools that will help them better to evaluate their working environment.

The upgraded ResponDrone System will provide accurate location information to first responders, especially in relation to infrastructure, when called on to deal with a fire, flood or any other natural disaster.

ResponDrone has signed an agreement with Hivemapper to integrate its latest crowdsourced mapping technology. The ResponDrone System can now fly a mission over an area, process the collected data and turn it into an up-to-date 3D map. This is in line with the modular approach ResponDrone has adopted in the design of its platform, allowing easy expansion of the platform using state-of-the-art technology and giving first responders access to those tools.

“The need to provide precision 3D mapping to rescue teams as fast as possible has been identified by ResponDrone as a key capability toward attaining its goal of maximizing situation awareness for first responders,” said ResponDrone project coordinator Max Friedrich of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

“If an ambulance driver uses an outdated map to arrive at the scene of an accident, or a firefighting crew can’t get to the scene of the forest fire as roads have been blocked due to falling trees as a result of the wildfire, the results could be fatal.”

By using Hivemapper technology, ResponDrone will serve the needs of emergency services by providing the teams on the ground with the highly focused and updated situational awareness they need.

The broader community will benefit from the updated mapping data as the impact of natural disasters will be reflected in the mapping app in near real time, which might otherwise have taken years to feature on traditional mapping platforms.

Thanks to techxplore.com for that report.

Continuing the theme of clever drone usage, here’s a heart-warming story of a drone pilot, who realised he could put an infrared camera, a spotlight and a 180 x zoom lens on his drone, and use it to search for missing animals, or animals stranded by bad weather or fires.

Professional drone pilot Douglas Thron has, since 2018, rescued critters from fires in California and Australia, floods in Louisiana, and other disasters anywhere they’ve struck. He told TreeHugger.com the Australian inferno produced multiple forms of hell – including 20-hour work days.

Thron said “It was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them.”

Thron works with individuals and associations that care for the scores of rescued animals he locates. But whenever he can, he goes the extra search-and-rescue mile to find their owners – enabling what are invariably joyous and boundlessly relieved reunions.

“It’s awesome to be able to save people’s cats and dogs because, frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal’s sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death”, he said.

There is apparently a trailer dedicated to this man’s rescues, called appropriately “Doug to the Rescue”. View it on the channel “Curiosity Stream” on YouTube

Finally, China has released a picture this week of a selfie taken of its Tianwen-1 lander and its Zhurong Rover together on Mars. Apparently, included in the lander system is a remote camera, which Zhurong went and placed a little way away from Tianwen-1, and then went back to park next to Tianwen-1, so that the remote camera could take the picture. And Zhurong, with its solar panels unfurled like wings and its own cameras and presumably lasers installed on a head-like projection above the rover, looks a bit like a baby duck shaking its wings and trying to fly. More than one person on FaceBook has wished they had a pet that looked like Zhurong!

Look for “Zhurong and Tainwen-1 selfie” on google – I’m sure you’ll agree with them.

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

HAMNET Report 6th June 2021

As forecast, the central Eastern Cape, Lesotho and the Drakensberg received a fair amount of snow this week. High ground around Barkly East, Rhodes and Tiffindell in the Eastern Cape, and Bethlehem, Warden, Reitz and Harrismith in the Free State were to be well blanketed, and possibly areas around Newcastle in KZN and Volksrust in Mpumalanga.

Travelers are advised to take plenty of warm cover and protective clothing, and also be well stocked with food and liquids in case they get stuck along their routes, as driving in snow, even if light, is very challenging, and it is easy to lose control of a vehicle and end up in a ditch.

The whole country is experiencing cold nights, except perhaps the KZN coastline, but typical Western Cape rains haven’t really started yet. Days are balmy and still, and autumn sunsets are spectacular in Cape Town.

All radio amateurs are asked to have their radios on, monitoring or scanning their local repeaters, and keeping an ear on 3760 KHz, 7110 KHz, and 14.300 MHz, for emergency traffic. Please be available to help your fellow South African.

Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, HAMNET Deputy National Director, has sent me an interesting tale from Division six. He reports that flying is a very dangerous hobby, even more so if you need to fly and there’s interference on the radio frequency you have to use to communicate with other pilots in the same flying area.

This happened in the Special Rules Area East in the Gauteng area where 125.400 MHz had a constant carrier that made it very dangerous and basically unusable.

This was a big concern as this frequency is used over a great area, from the south of Johannesburg to the north of Pretoria and from O.R.Tambo Airport all the way to Bronkhorstspruit in the east.

On the 7th of April 2021 HAMNET Gauteng was made aware of the situation,  and they immediately offered the skills of Team Interdiction (this being a code name for the HAMNET Gauteng interference specialist team) to locate the source of the interference.

Seventeen members of HAMNET Gauteng joined the hunt. Every night the teams went out to locate the source. About 60 man hours were spent.

Leon ZS6LMG got a strong signal close to O.R.Tambo airport cargo area and asked ICASA to assist (as HAMNET does not have the power to enter premises and has to rely on the goodwill of people to open if asked).

ICASA came out and started looking for this signal source and found that the signal origin was not at the airport but more to the west. On Friday the 16th Henry ZS6IIX used a 7 element UHF Yagi and a USRP SDR from his home and got a bearing of the source. He then used a 3 element Yagi just to confirm that the signal was not a reflection off a building or any other structures.

The signal was coming from the North West.

On Saturday at the HAMNET meeting he suggested that somebody close to the Magaliesberg area be asked to drive out there and see if the signal was coming from that side. Awie ZS6AVI, staying in the Randburg area, volunteered to drive out that way on Monday before going to work and there he found a very very strong signal at Hekpoort School (even with the antenna removed from his mobile radio).

On Wednesday Henry ZS6IIX drove out to Hekpoort armed with a R&S FH3 Spectrum Analyser, a USRP SDR, a 100 dBm attenuator, a Dell Laptop and other odds and ends. He did a RF simulation and found the source to up the mountain. He and Leon informed ICASA, whose inspector confirmed the location and contacted the owners of the site.

It turned out that the interference was caused by an Airband transmitter whose PTT locked on after load shedding and the generator had kicked in. The owners went out and switched off the transmitter.

Brian notes that the strong signal on a high site caught a lot of interference experts out, and that Team Interdiction is adjusting its protocols for engaging strong signal interference.

On behalf of HAMNET Gauteng, Brian thanks all the pilots and aviation personnel that gave feedback on the areas of interference. Special thanks are due to the ARCC Chief for collating the pilot reports and feeding it to Team Interdiction.

And thank you Brian for that welcome report from Gauteng, compiled by Henry Rood ZS6IIX. My apologies for not listing the names and call signs of all seventeen HAMNET members involved.

The amateur radio fraternity as well as the radio astronomy fraternity has lost a giant of a man, with the passing, at age 95, of Emeritus Professor Gordon Pettengill, W1OUN. He was the former Professor of planetary physics and former director of the MIT Centre for Space Research, and a great pioneer in radio astronomy.

Pettengill pioneered the use of radar for planetary astronomy applications, making ground-breaking observations of the moon, the inner planets, and other solar system objects. His work was instrumental in the development of multiple NASA missions including the Apollo moon missions and the Mariner 2, Pioneer, and Magellan missions to Venus.

Interested in matters electronic since the age of six, he acquired his amateur licence in his teens, but his studies in Physics at MIT were interrupted by
World War 2. He finally finished his Ph.D in high-energy physics in 1955.

He returned to MIT just as a special government-funded experimental missile-tracking radar system was being built there, and with it, he made break-through observations in the developing field of radio astronomy. He aimed the system at Venus, and measured its distance by radar, recalibrating the astronomical unit by three orders of magnitude. He was able to generate a 2D radar map of the moon, used by NASA to plan future Apollo landings.

In 1963, he moved and eventually became director of the new Aricebo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. He helped with the installation of the powerful radar transmitter used to measure Mercury’s period of rotation, and also described surface properties of several asteroids and comet nuclei.

There were not many awards he did not win, but he retired in 1995, and pursued his hobbies of ham radio and bird-watching. Quaintly, he is quoted as being survived by his wife, two children, two grand-daughters, and an asteroid named 3831 Pettengill!

Not many of us will be able to boast something like that.

Thanks to MIT News for this abbreviated version of his obituary.

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

HAMNET Report 30th May 2021

India is in the wars again. They are now experiencing a second Tropical Cylone, Cyclone YAAS-21, this one moving northwards in the Bay of Bengal, and striking India close to the Border with Bangladesh.

It came ashore over the northern coast of Odisha on 26th May, with flooding also in West Bengal, closing airports and forcing cancellation of train services. At least 22000 houses were damaged, 15000 people displaced, some deaths reported, and continuing heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for all the northeastern states of India. Ten million people were in the path of the storm and its peripheral wind and rain.

YAAS forced the evacuation of more than 1.2 million people in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.

The Indian Meteorological Department said landfall began around 9:00 am (0330 GMT) and warned that it would generate waves higher than rooftops in some areas. Coastal areas experienced wind gusts up to 155 kilometres an hour and pounding rain.

“We have been experiencing heavy rainfall and strong winds since last night,” said Bibhu Prasad Panda, a resident of Balasore district in the storm’s path. “Several trees have been uprooted. The cyclone has also led to snapping of overhead electricity cables.”

A tornado that preceded the storm left two dead electrocuted as it tore through West Bengal’s Hooghly district, authorities said. Kolkata, West Bengal’s main city, ordered its international airport to shut down for most of Wednesday. The airport in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, followed suit.

“Every life is precious,” said Odisha’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik as he appealed for people not to “panic” and to move away from the coast.

A record 4,800 disaster workers had been positioned in the two states, equipped with tree and wire cutters, emergency communications, inflatable boats and medical aid, the National Disaster Response Force said.

It just doesn’t stop for the unfortunate Indian nation.

Here’s an interesting bit of research. The website Phys.org reports that adverse encounters between police officers and young men from underrepresented backgrounds garner significant national attention around topics of social justice and have been called a matter of public health by several organizations. Now, with a new, four-year, $2.75 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, an interdisciplinary team of researchers aims to examine transcripts of police radio communications to observe what happens during these encounters and study any patterns of interaction that may lead to unfortunate or tragic outcomes.

“We’re hoping to identify signals in language, such as vocabulary and discourse, that suggest an encounter between a law enforcement officer and a male minority youth will take a turn for the worse,” said Shomir Wilson, assistant professor in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology. “Language conveys a lot of information about a person’s frame of mind, their actions, their mood and their level of comfort.”

Working with experts in human development from the University of Chicago, Wilson will lead a Penn State team to use natural language processing to draw insights from Chicago-area police scanner transcripts at a large scale. His team will also carefully examine the privacy ramifications of police communications by radio in general and the dataset specifically.

“Law enforcement officers frequently use their radios to report what they encounter, and they use a combination of standard jargon and freeform language to quickly describe situations,” said Wilson. “We want to go beyond the literal descriptions and try to infer what police are thinking and assuming during encounters. If we can do that, it’s a step toward identifying strategies that will de-escalate adverse encounters.”

The interdisciplinary project will combine research in natural language processing, computational social science, and privacy. Penn State’s contribution will include developing automated methods to sort through a large volume of transcripts, using supervised and unsupervised machine learning to explore the transcripts, and studying how incidents are structured to be able to identify distinguishing characteristics in language that may predict incident outcomes. The Penn State team will also identify potentially sensitive data and determine the best approach for sharing it with the research community while also protecting the identities of those involved.

I wonder whether it would be possible to extrapolate this kind of research to a country with 11 separate languages. In that it is quite possible that the law enforcement officer’s mother tongue is different from that of the suspected perpetrator of an illegal deed, the likelihood is high that nor the officer nor the civilian will understand nuances in the other’s use of language, and misunderstanding is highly likely. But if it raises awareness in the minds of the trained forces as to what they may be intimating while interacting with their “suspects”, it will be all to the good, and unnecessary violence may be avoided.

The ARRL Letter of May 27th reports that HamSCI is looking for radio amateurs to record time-standard stations during the June 2021 annular solar eclipse across the Arctic Circle as part of a citizen science experiment. Researchers will use the crowd-sourced data to investigate the superimposed effects of auroral particle precipitation and the eclipse on HF Doppler shift.

Participants would collect data using an HF radio connected to a computer running open-source software. A precision frequency standard, such as a GPS-disciplined oscillator, is desirable but not required to participate. Radio amateurs and shortwave listeners around the globe are invited to take part, even stations far from the path of totality. Last year’s eclipse festivals included more than 100 participants from 45 countries.

The experiment will run June 7 – 12. All participants will receive certificates as well as updates as the data is processed. This is a pilot experiment for HamSCI’s Personal Space Weather Station project, which seeks to develop a global network monitoring the geospace environment

This eclipse will be an unusual annular or “ring of fire” eclipse. This occurs when the moon is too far from Earth to fully block the sun, but will fit entirely within it. The eclipse path will cross over the North Pole, so it first will travel north and then south.

The HamSCI convenors encourage anybody from any part of the globe to go to their website, and download the software to use with their HF radio, because eclipse effects on HF don’t only occur in the path of the eclipse, and careful observation may reveal unexpected worldwide effects.

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

HAMNET Report 23rd May 2021

I’m sure that you, like me have been stunned this week to hear of the large number of civilian casualties incurred in this week’s hostilities between Israel and fighters operating out of Gaza. It is appalling to realize that it is impossible for two enemy forces, no matter which side you support, to engage with each other, without placing the lives and possessions of local civilians in jeopardy.

We have witnessed physical damage to buildings, roads and vehicles, heard reports of civilian men women and children being killed in collateral damage inflicted, and learned that hundreds of thousands of local populace have been displaced or had their homes destroyed during the offensives.

Let us hope that the flimsy cease-fire that went into effect midnight on Thursday can be made to last.

On the other side of the globe, GDACS has reported at least three major earthquakes in China since midday Friday, local time. The first was a Magnitude 6 quake at a depth of 10km very close to the Myanmar border, at 13h48 local time. There was limited public danger as a result of this one. A minute or so later a Magnitude 6.1 shock at the same epicenter, close to the Myanmar border was experienced. Population exposed this time was 423000, because the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale, and a decimal point in magnitude makes for a much stronger quake. The third quake was even stronger, a magnitude 7.4 version at 18h00 on Friday, but in a less densely populated area, and not threatening as many people.

At the time of compiling this bulletin, news of casualties had not filtered through, and I sincerely hope there weren’t any.

And, remarking on the double disaster in India this week, a blogger writing in the Times of India notes that Cyclone Tuaktae of the week was similar to Cyclone Amphan which hit Bengal last year. In both cases, disruptions were huge, but worse this time around, because of the huge Covid surge, with Cyclone Tauktae seriously disrupting operations at Covid hospitals that already have a high patient load, disrupting oxygen supply logistics, hitting vaccine cold storage, and raising the risk of Covid infection in evacuation shelters in the affected states.

In such a scenario, Central Disaster Relief has assured all help to the cyclone-hit states, including deployment of central forces and NDRF teams. This is welcome and all necessary assistance should be made available. However, over the long term, our disaster response systems need to be prepared to operate in multi-crises situations. For Covid may not be the last pandemic we see in our lifetimes with zoonotic diseases on the rise. Same is the case with climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters. Therefore, appropriate Standard Operating Procedures need to be developed to manage natural disasters in pandemic situations and other multi-crises events. The lessons from this pandemic period must not be forgotten.

The competitive swimmers amongst you will be interested to know that a one-way communications system has been developed so that coaches may talk to their swimmers while they’re in the water, without having to shout to be heard.

The Sonr system is designed to address that problem, using one-way radio communications. Invented by swimmer and entrepreneur Dmitri Voloshin, Sonr is manufactured by Moldovan company Simpal.

The system consists of two parts – a walkie-talkie held by the coach, and a waterproof bone conduction speaker/receiver worn by the swimmer. The latter device is slightly buoyant – so it will float if it comes off – and can be worn either under a swimming cap or clipped to the wearer’s goggles strap.

In order to provide the swimmer with feedback or instructions, the coach simply speaks into the walkie-talkie, with his/her voice being transmitted to the athlete’s receiver in real time. The system has a lateral range of 300 metres, plus its signal can travel up to 1 metre underwater.

Additionally, by selecting different frequencies, one coach can speak to as many as 30 swimmers at once. That said, they can still select any one of those people – or small sub-groups of them – and talk to them individually. The system can also be set to act as a metronome, providing audio signals that help swimmers time the pace of their strokes.

Thanks to NewAtlas for that information. The technique is so obvious that I’m having difficulty understanding why someone hasn’t thought of the idea before! I don’t know whether it can be used during a sports competition, but I expect the instructions would have to be encrypted to prevent other competitors from benefitting from opponent’s communications, if that were the case.

The annual American National Hurricane Centre station on-the-air test will be held on Saturday, May 29, 13h00 – 21h00 UTC. The WX4NHC operators plan to be working remotely again this year as the National Hurricane Centre plans to maintain all CDC COVID-19 pandemic protocols until the end of 2021. The yearly exercise takes place just ahead of the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, June 1 – November 30. Assistant WX4NHC Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R, said the event offers an opportunity for radio amateurs worldwide to exercise the sorts of communication capabilities available during severe weather.

“We will be making brief contacts on many frequencies and modes, and exchanging signal reports and basic weather data (sun, rain, temperature, etc.) with any station in any location,” Ripoll said.

Participating stations may use HF, VHF, UHF, APRS, and Winlink, with WX4NHC HF activity centring on the Hurricane Watch Net frequencies of 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz, depending on propagation, and will operate elsewhere as conditions dictate. WX4NHC will also participate in the VoIP Hurricane Net, 20h00 – 21h00 UTC.

As for the upcoming hurricane season, Ripoll said, “Even if you are not directly affected by a hurricane situation, please volunteer to monitor and relay reports; just one report can make a difference and help save a life!”

Thank you to the ARRL letter for May the 20th for this insert.

May I end with an impassioned plea to all who are eligible, to register to be vaccinated against COVID as soon as possible? This disease is not going to go away until a majority of about 70% of us have either had it or been vaccinated against it.

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

Hamnet Report 16th May 2021

As if India is not currently suffering the worst wave of Covid infections in its history, it is also being threatened by Tropical Cyclone Tauktae-21, which is sliding up India’s western coastline. It was first identified on Friday afternoon as being potentially dangerous, and, at present, GDACS reports 4.1 million people as being in its 120 km/h path, and another 44.5 million people as being affected by its surrounding tropical depression.

Projections call for it to proceed in a generally northerly direction, parallel to India’s coastline, and finally coming ashore just south-east of India’s border with Pakistan on Tuesday morning their time. Wind-speeds are forecast to increase to 200km/h between now and Tuesday. We must hope that the storm remains offshore for as long as possible. India does not need, or deserve, to be battered by another disaster, as it reels from the effects of 300 to 400 000 new Covid-19 cases a day.

Writing on the Express.co.uk website, Oliver Pritchard-Jones says there is new hope for the discovery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 after an expert claimed amateur radio sleuths could solve the mystery.

The Boeing 777 plane vanished with 238 passengers and crew on board on March 8, 2014, after setting off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing, China. Aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey recently published a study on how to interpret data about the plane’s final movements.

Using a process called Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR), it works by reconstructing its flightpath by analysing disturbances to radio reception at the time it went missing. Mr Godfrey explained radio signals acted like invisible “tripwires” in the sky. He said his theory that the pilot of the doomed flight deliberately tried to avoid detection was now a “working hypothesis” thanks to the technique.

The data revealed the plane turned multiple times as though to shake off aircraft tracking technology before plummeting into the southern Indian Ocean, he said.

Mr Godfrey, who is investigating the crash with the so-called Independent Group of Scientists, indicated the plane’s flight path was “significantly different” from earlier theories based on satellite data.

He claimed pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah took a series of turns and alternated the speed of the MH370 to leave “false trails” on unofficial routes while avoiding commercial flight routes.

Airlineratings.com quoted Mr Godfrey saying: “I would no longer characterise the track in the new paper as speculative but a working hypothesis.

“The MH370 flight path I have proposed is a hypothesis supported by a body of evidence in the form of a large number of position and progress indicators.

“The working hypothesis will remain valid until someone proves it wrong by presenting evidence that this flight path was not followed.

“One possibility would be the publication of raw radar data for example.”

Mr Godfrey previously said: “WSPR is like a bunch of tripwires or laser beams, but they work in every direction over the horizon to the other side of the globe.

“The pilot of MH370 generally avoided official flight routes from 18:00 UTC onwards but used waypoints to navigate on unofficial flight paths in the Malacca Strait, around Sumatra and across the Southern Indian Ocean.”

He added: “The flight path follows the coast of Sumatra and flies close to Banda Aceh Airport.” Close quote.

Whatever plans the pilot of the doomed aircraft seems to have had, appear to have been doomed, possibly by the aircraft running out of fuel, and having to ditch at sea, probably breaking up on impact, and sinking without leaving any local trace.

You may remember that pieces of aircraft wing identified as belonging to the aircraft, washed up on beaches on the East side of the Indian ocean several months later, but of course did nothing to prove exactly where the aircraft’s final resting place is.

However, WSPR technology may provide sufficient proof to allow an accurate search in the correct area to be made, and finally discover the truth regarding the flight.

In research made possible when COVID-19 side-lined other research projects, scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine meticulously counted brain cells in fruit flies and three species of mosquitos, revealing a number that would surprise many people outside the science world.

The insects’ tiny brains, on average, have about 200,000 neurons and other cells, they say. By comparison, a human brain has 86 billion neurons, and a rodent brain contains about 12 billion. The figure probably represents a “floor” for the number needed to perform the bugs’ complex behaviours.

“Even though these brains are simple [in contrast to mammalian brains], they can do a lot of processing, even more than a supercomputer,” says Christopher Potter, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “They enable the insects to navigate, find food and perform other complicated tasks at the same time, and our study offers one answer to the question of how many brain cells come together to conduct these behaviours,” Potter adds.

Results of the research are summarized on May 14 in PLOS ONE.

Those who study insect behaviour and brain function have long suspected these insects must have hundreds of thousands of brain cells, says Potter, but when he and postdoctoral fellow Joshua Raji, Ph.D., followed chains of scientific papers that referenced the count, they did not find proof for it.

In response, they report, they set out to find proof using a relatively simple counting method called an isotropic fractionator, a technique familiar to pathologists when they tally the number of any type of cell in a tissue.

Potter says that researchers have determined the number of brain cells in only a few species of insects, including wasps and ants. “It would be interesting to apply this approach to social insects like bees, and see if there are differences between queens and drones,” he says.

The most challenging part of the technique, says Potter, was the microdissection of a brain that is smaller than the tip of a pencil. “It takes a really steady hand and lots of practice,” he says.

What he didn’t say was whether the brain of the average radio amateur has as many brain cells as the average fruit fly, and I suppose we may never know..

Thanks to Phys.org for this enlightening item of news.

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

HAMNET Report 9th May 2021

The Southern Cape has been battered by extremely heavy rain, strong winds and high seas since Wednesday, and only by Friday was a state of normalcy starting to return.

IOL reported that residents were evacuated from their homes after heavy floods in some parts of L’Agulhas, Struisbaai, and Struisbaai North on Wednesday. Rescue teams were deployed to the area, including Disaster Management, a statement from the Overberg District Municipality said.

Heavy rain that was initially predicted to reach 45mm, actually reached from 60mm to 100mm in mountainous areas. The weather bureau warned that the rainfall would be accompanied by thunderstorms and hail. Videos and pictures were posted to social media of flooded homes, hail the size of golf balls, and a crew from Cape Agulhas municipality on a small fishing boat helping to evacuate residents.

An orange level 6 warning was issued in the Overberg area, with an urgent note of danger to life due to fast flowing streams.

Residents in the Cape Winelands, City of Cape Town and Hessequa Municipality were also issued an orange level 4 warning, with possible flooding.

Social media were awash, if you’ll pardon the expression, with videos of water flooding streets, racing through gardens, getting rivers that had been dry for up to 7 years flowing again, and the NSRI operating on land, helping to rescue stranded families on farms!

Dam catchment areas in the mountains had huge amounts of rain, and, apart from the effect of filling all dams and reservoirs in the area, ground water has been restocked.

The Airforce was asked to be on standby to help rescue stranded groups of people, but so far, it seems that ground forces were adequate to the task.

At this stage it seems that 2 pairs of travellers in two vehicles lost their lives, being washed away in raging floodwater.

The Cape Winter has been late in starting, but has now started with a vengeance!

In these times of multiple simultaneous disasters taking place, I have had my attention drawn again to the plight of the disabled during disasters. There are many types and degrees of disability, but the one I wish to concentrate on here is the disability of being unable to hear – i.e. deafness.

Deafness has been described as the invisible disability, because it is not obvious that a person is deaf. Deafness prevents a person from having his/her attention drawn easily to a disaster broadcast of any sort.

Reporting in theconversation.com, Nick Craig and Julia Allen note that deaf people are highly vulnerable to disaster risk, but tend to be excluded from programs aimed at boosting preparedness and resilience.

I quote:

“Our study, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, examined the challenges the New South Wales Deaf community faces in accessing the support they need to effectively respond to disaster risk.

“Our research showed that deaf people are vulnerable to disasters for various reasons, including low disaster awareness and preparedness, poor knowledge of emergency services roles and responsibilities, and dependency on family and friends for help.

“Communication issues are the biggest barrier, because deaf people have limited access to disaster information in sign language, in plain English or in pictorial form, emergency messages are usually communicated via TV and radio, door-to-door messaging, loudspeaker alerts and social media which are either audio in form or too complicated for many deaf people to understand, and emergency personnel and emergency shelter staff can find it hard to communicate with deaf people due to language barriers.

“Consequently, deaf people are frequently unaware of evacuation shelter locations, unsure of whom and how to ask for help, and more likely to return to unsafe homes and conditions.

“This marginalises them further and increases vulnerability. They also have difficulties in getting information on how to access recovery resources. Good communication requires trust between everyone involved but deaf peoples’ trust in the emergency services has been low due to past bad experiences.

“Deaf people reported that emergency services personnel were often uncomfortable communicating with them directly and lack the patience to use non-verbal communication methods.” End quote.

Thanks to the authors for the use of their report.

In my 4 decades of observing the human species, I have come to the realisation that to be deaf is worse than to be blind. I maintain that blindness robs you of your possessions, but deafness robs you of your friends. To be deaf makes you alone amongst a crowd. The conversation and interaction can go on around you, but you can’t take part. And non-disabled people are more tolerant of the blind, with whom they can communicate, than of the deaf, because they have to shout to make themselves understood, or repeat their message many times.

And, of course, deafness would rob us of the hobby of Ham Radio, an intolerable disability. EXCEPT for digital modes of radio communication, which still allow us to “chew the rag” with our fellow amateurs, and make our volunteerism in emergency communications still possible. This fact alone levels the playing field, so to speak, for all deaf people to continue to practice this hobby.

And it is the digital mode on the cell phone (that is, messaging of one sort or another) which has revolutionized life for deaf people in all walks of life. To message, to be warned, to attract someone’s attention, or be made aware of someone’s desire to communicate with you when you are deaf, is actually the greatest advance in smart phone evolution over the last 2 decades.

I think that being robbed of all exposure to music must surely be the most crippling loss to a deaf person.

So be kind to your deaf relative or friend, help them acquire the most sophisticated hearing aid they can afford, be tolerant of their loud voices because they can’t hear themselves speak, try to learn sign language if you live closely with them, teach them how to use a cell-phone effectively to reduce the loneliness, and use your skill in electronics to devise means to make their soundless life manageable, such as a doorbell that causes a light to flash.

Finally, one line to draw your attention to the signs that a third wave of the Coronavirus illness is just beginning in some of our provinces. Please remember the truism: “It’s not over for any of us, until it’s over for all of us”!

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

HAMNET Report 2nd May 2021

Authorities in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius issued a disaster alert on Wednesday after heavy rains caused severe flooding making roads impassable to pedestrians and vehicles.

State-owned Vacoas weather station issued the alert and warned of impassable roads, thunderstorms and floods from torrential rains.

“Rainfall reached about 170 mm in the previous 24 hours, while thunder continued to rumble on the side of Plaines-Wilhems,” it said.

The warning noted that ”the atmosphere remains unstable over Mauritius and after a brief lull, very active clouds coming from the east will begin to influence the weather again. There will also be thunderstorms. Accumulations of floodwater have also been noted in the south, east and on the central plateau.”

Due to the unpredictable weather patterns, meteorologists from the Vacoas weather station told reporters they are not certain when the alert will be lifted.

Water sources, including rivers, have been polluted by the uncontrollable increase of rainwater and the water supply is irregular in several places in the east of the country due to the accumulation of mud in the rivers.

Invercargill Police SAR Coordinator Sergeant Ian Martin reports that a Southland hunter was found after spending multiple hours lost in the cold in the Hokonui Hills last week.

Gore Police and Eastern Southland Land Search and Rescue team were alerted to the lost hunter on 21 April, after he used his mobile phone to raise the alarm with his wife, who in turn notified Police at about 6.30pm. Police were able to determine the man’s location by getting him to make a 111 call from his mobile phone.

Ten Eastern Southland LandSAR volunteers assisted and Amateur Radio Emergency Communications volunteers also responded to the call-out. Three search teams walked through the area near Dolamore Park. The hunter was located at about 10.30pm; four hours after staff were first notified.

He was feeling the cold, but otherwise in good health, and very lucky, as he had very little food and insufficient gear to spend the night in the bush.

The ARRL Newsletter this week also reports on a Ham Radio Rescue scenario.

A back-country hiker was rescued from Great Smoky Mountains National Park with assistance from amateur radio after she became exhausted on the trail and possibly dehydrated. A member of the hiking group on the park’s Little River Trail, Tim Luttrell, KA9EBJ, put out a call on the evening of April 11 via the W4KEV linked VHF repeater in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, requesting assistance in extricating the injured member. No cell phone service was available at the location, and Luttrell’s signal was spotty at times, owing to the mountainous terrain.

Responding was David Manuel, W5DJR, who obtained more information and called 911, which routed the call to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Emergency Medical Service (GSMNP EMS). The national park EMS relayed through Manuel a request for the group to continue down the trail as far as possible to shorten the rescue time.

A medic with the Park Service search-and-rescue team subsequently reached Manuel by telephone, who served to relay questions to Luttrell. Manuel contacted members of the hiker’s family after Luttrell provided contact numbers. Manuel was asked to relay information for the family to arrange to meet in Cherokee, North Carolina, and be prepared to transport the distressed hiker’s vehicle to her home.

Manuel got a call from Luttrell indicating “all clear” shortly after 2 AM.

The injured hiker was hospitalized and required surgery and rehabilitation. ARRL Tennessee Section Manager Dave Thomas, KM4NYI, told ARRL that he’d learned another hiker in the same group was close to hypothermia by the time they were rescued.

Powerline (PLC) devices have been a problem for amateur radio for years due to the RF Pollution they can produce. Now DARC reports a large scale plan for PLC.

Southgate Amateur Radio News says the Japanese electronics group Panasonic is currently planning a breakthrough in large-scale applications and in private business.

As Heise Online reports, Panasonic wants to manufacture chips e.g. for street lamps and household appliances that can be networked via power lines. The range of the power line data network should be able to be extended to up to ten kilometres.

According to the Japanese plan, one billion chips are to be produced by 2030. Elevators, offices and apartments as well as new sensors could then be networked without additional cabling. Electricity companies could also use the technology efficiently to read smart electricity meters remotely.

My heart sinks at the thought of the amount of litigation that will be necessary to help fight this degree of RF pollution.

For those of you using, or interested in DMR (Digital Mobile Radio), Allan ZS1AL and Danie ZS1OSS have created a dedicated HAMNET Western Cape Talk Group 6550087, which should work for all DMR operators using the Bottelaryberg or Helderberg DMR repeaters in Cape Town, as well as countrywide. Most operators in South Africa monitor Talk Group 655, so it is suggested you call on 655, and then move to 6550087 for further comms.

Thanks to Allan and Danie!

If you’ve felt isolated and lonely sometimes during the Covid-19 pandemic, spare a thought for Astronaut Michael Collins who stayed behind in the Apollo 11 Columbia Command Module, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969.

Once the lander had left Columbia, Collins orbited the moon on his own, and when on the far side of the moon, was totally isolated, and cut off from all humanity, with no means of contacting anybody, and the furthest humans had ever travelled from Earth. Collins later joked he was “glad to get behind the moon so Mission Control would shut up!”

He also said he remembered very little of the moon, but was struck by the view of the Earth, a tiny, shiny, blue sky’d and watered planet, white of cloud, with only a trace of brown land, all of which he described as “fragile”.

I think we can agree our Earth has become more fragile since he made those remarks. Michael Collins died this week, aged 90, the dimly remembered third crew-member of Apollo 11.

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

HAMNET Report 25th April 2021

Prnewswire.com reports that, in celebration of World Amateur Radio Day on April 18, Maglite and the ARRL have announced they have formed a partnership based on the common mission of helping people be prepared for emergencies and to serve their communities in extreme situations such as natural disasters. ARRL member-volunteers provide public service through the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®), and by expanding the reservoir of trained operators and technicians in radio communications and radio technology. Mag Instrument is the leading maker of U.S.-manufactured high-quality flashlights that have a deserved reputation for performance, reliability and durability.

“Amateur radio operators, help people in times of difficulty, often by supporting emergency communications when critical infrastructure is damaged, and by responding to the needs of first responders to keep connected,” said Anthony Maglica, Founder, Owner and CEO of MAG Instrument Inc. “We manufacture a product that has been used in public safety for over 40 years and we are very supportive of the incredible dedication of radio amateurs, so culturally this is a great alliance for both brands.”

Maglite is the preferred flashlight brand of many police, fire and other first responder organizations and is the official flashlight of NASAR – the National Association of Search and Rescue. The partnership with ARRL will entail Mag Instrument creating special laser engraved Maglite® products for ARRL as well as offering their members special pricing on a select line of Maglite products, and in turn, those purchases raise funds for ARRL to support their mission.

“ARRL is delighted that Maglite recognizes the service and skill of ARRL members. This partnership will help us introduce amateur radio to more people,” says David Minster, NA2AA, ARRL CEO.

Greg Mossop G0DUB has asked the IARU Region 1 countries’ Emcomm leaders to consider a test using QO-100 geostationary satellite on 9th May at 08h00 UTC. He says he has one or possibly two stations in the UK interested in trying the satellite for region wide communications and in earlier conversations he realised that some Emcomm operators have the capability or are already using the satellite for routine nets.

Greg issued the request on Thursday and has, so far, received expressions of interest from Slovenia, the Netherlands, South Africa, Malta and Slovakia. I’m sure more will join in the next 10 days. The next Region 1 Emergency Communications Co-ordinator’s meeting is scheduled for May the 15th from 14h00 UTC.

Meanwhile, Grant Southey ZS1GS, National HAMNET Director has reminded us to keep away from 7.188MHz, which is being used by the Caribbean Emergency and Weather Net (CEWN) to provide round-the-clock coverage during the La Soufriere volcanic eruption on the island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Several neighbouring islands are also being affected by the disaster. When responding to disasters and emergencies such as this, the CEWN utilizes 3.815 MHz LSB and 7.188 MHz LSB. CEWN is requesting that radio amateurs not involved in the volcano response keep these frequencies clear.

Naturally, 3.815 MHz is not within South Africa’s 80m band-plan, so you may listen but you may not transmit on that frequency.

There is a Tropical Cyclone side-swiping the Philippines as I write this, called SURIGAE, affecting the eastern coast of central and northern Philippines, resulting in four fatalities and 13 injured people, as reported by national authorities on 22 April. More than 235,750 people have been affected across Cagayan Valley, Bicol, Eastern Visayas and Caraga Regions. It is expected to weaken, as it moves eastwards over the Philippine Sea, south of Yaeyama and Okinawa Islands in southern Japan. There has not been much news coverage, although the cyclone has been active South and South-east of the Philippines for almost a week now.

A useful hobby and the keen and practiced eye of ARRL member Ben Kuo, AI6YR, helped to guide rescuers to a hiker stranded on a mountainside on April 12. Hiker Rene Compean, 45, had spent the night in a remote region of the Angeles National Forest after getting in a tough spot. After a concerned friend reported Compean missing on Monday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatched search-and-rescue (SAR) teams. Although amateur radio played no direct role in the rescue, Kuo cited his enthusiasm for technology and ham radio satellites, and for Summits on the Air (SOTA), for helping him to develop the skills he needed to guide searchers to the most appropriate area.

Kuo told the Los Angeles Times that he has an odd hobby of looking at photos and determining where they had been taken. He was able to employ his skill to determine the hiker’s likely location using a tiny photo the hiker posted on Twitter that shows his legs and the valley below. As the newspaper reported on April 15, “When [Kuo] saw the photo posted by the Sheriff’s Department, he set to work pulling publicly available satellite images and matching them to the vegetation and terrain below the hiker’s legs.”

Kuo’s eye was good. He sent authorities the GPS coordinates of the most likely area, and the rescue team found Compean less than a mile from that location.

As the LA Times reported, the area where Compean was, was located on steep slopes and very difficult to access, requiring advanced climbing skills. The Sheriff’s Department credited Kuo with saving them hours of fruitless searching. Kuo said this was the first time he’d been involved in a rescue like this one.

And, from Kuo’s own experience of Summits on the Air, he also knew that cell phone reception was poor in the area where SAR teams had been deployed, and that the twitter messages coming from the hiker were not coming from that area. His SOTA experience and practice at locality identification from photo evidence and satellite images resulted in a far quicker rescue of the stranded hiker.

Thanks to the ARRL newsletter of 22nd April for that story.

Like other UCT graduates in this country, I have been mourning the huge losses, both intellectual and financial, incurred during last Sunday’s wildfire. While not personally affected, the thought that so many valuable collections of so much personal work, study, research and publication have been lost in the fire makes my heart ache.

However I was encouraged to read that the fire response crews have used thermal cameras on the ground and from the air to pick up hotspots as small as a R5 coin on or under the ground, to be able to extinguish them before they flared up and started further fires. That’s good use of technology for you!

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

HAMNET Report 18th April 2021

In a message to the Emergency Communications groups around IARU Region 1, on Monday the 12th, Greg Mossop conveyed his thanks to everyone who took part in Sunday’s exercise on JS8call. There had only been a few countries interested when it was discussed on the last conference call, so getting 17 countries listed to take part and putting 40+ stations into 2.5kHz of spectrum was a good show of interest and certainly challenged the mode for performance.

If it had gone perfectly there would have been no point in doing it so Greg was expecting comments from all. He said he would be interested in how many stations we were able to send short messages to and how many formal messages were sent if possible as well as for any messages received.

He is not intending to review all logs as this was intended as an enthusiasm and awareness raising test rather than a formal exercise with control stations etc. but some numbers will help to see if there is an improvement in future.

He already has some observations on message handling and the organisation of the event as well as the good comments about timing of exercises which we will talk about at our next teleconference in May.

In other reports from regional EmCor chiefs, Jul 6W1QL in Senegal, who had not formally registered to take part, found 40m challenging because of interference, but had more success on 20m, in spite of Senegal’s inexperience with the mode.

Jan, PA0NON in the Netherlands, reported many many contacts, but found the band too crowded, and suggested future exercises take place on another 40m frequency to avoid QRM from regular users of the mode.

From Stan OM8ST in the Slovak Republic, we learnt that few amateurs in that country took part, mainly because they were finding the technology difficult to master, and he reports that Slovak amateurs are not very interested in digital modes. He personally learned a lot from the exercise, so his eyes were opened to the mode.

John EI7IG in Ireland found auto responses by some stations he was trying to message blocked attempts to get the messages through, and felt a more structured approach to message passing was probably necessary. John struggled to separate stations taking part in the exercise from regular stations just using the frequency, and basically agreed with Jan’s observation that a different frequency should be used for exercises in future.

Grant ZS1GS in South Africa, reported that band conditions prevented our involvement in DX messaging on 40m, but noted that signals were easily decoded from most parts of South Africa on 40m, between 2 and 5pm, but that DX only opened up after 5pm, after the exercise was over, and then only on 20m. However, he thanked all South African participants for doing their best to be heard in other parts of IARU Region one.

Now, for some real disaster comms, we hear from Donald de Riggs, J88CD on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, who says that on April 13, the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, island residents were awakened to another column of volcanic ash creating a thick blanket obscuring part of the eastern sky as the volcano continues to erupt violently.

“Almost all residents in the Red Zone have been evacuated, save for a few diehards who will not move, for reasons unknown,” he said.

Since the effusive eruption began last December, local hams have been in a state of readiness via 2-meter networks and regional networks via HF. A 24-hour regional HF network and vigil has been active since violent eruptions resumed earlier this month to provide communication support should [the] telephone service be disrupted by the volcanic hazard. This includes a twice-daily link-up on HF with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). There is also a 2-meter gateway via EchoLink on the J88AZ node. The other active VHF repeater is the main resource for domestic communications.

The Grenada repeater, which is linked to St. Lucia and Barbados, is also accessible by hams in Tobago, Trinidad, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Frequencies being used for disaster-related communications may include 3.815, 7.188, or 7.162 MHz. Volcanic ash is also falling in Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Grenada.

The La Soufrière volcano on St. Vincent began its most recent series of explosive eruptions on April 9, sending clouds of hot ash some 20,000 feet into the air, blanketing much of the island in ash and causing water and power outages. The volcano is “a constant threat,” according to CDEMA.

A 5-year, $9.3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will allow the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Geophysical Institute to establish a new research observatory at the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). A former military facility, HAARP is now operated by UAF and is home to HAARP Amateur Radio Club’s KL7ERP. The new Subauroral Geophysical Observatory for Space Physics and Radio Science will be dedicated to exploring Earth’s upper atmosphere and geospace environment. The facility’s 33-acre Ionospheric Research Instrument will be the centrepiece of the observatory.

“This NSF support will provide the scientific community increased access to the instruments at the observatory and, hopefully, grow the scientific community,” said Geophysical Institute Director Robert McCoy, the project’s principal investigator.

A second NSF-funded project will add a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) instrument at the site, which will allow the study of other regions of the upper atmosphere. UAF hopes to add additional instruments over time at the Gakona, Alaska, research site.

The research grant will allow scientists to investigate how the sun affects Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere to produce changes in space weather. Their work will help fill gaps in knowledge about the region, which is important because ionospheric disturbances, if severe enough, can disrupt communication systems and damage the power grid.

Research at the observatory is initially expected to include the study of various types of aurora and other occurrences in the ionosphere..

“Amateur radio will clearly benefit with an improved understanding of ionospheric propagation and space weather physics, and providing improved HF propagation prediction modelling data,” HAARP Research Station Chief Engineer and ARRL Life Member Steve Floyd, W4YHD, told ARRL. He said, “Radio science experiments will also provide a valuable data set to encourage development of new radio technologies and modulation methods.”

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