On the 99 year anniversary of what could be considered the most catastrophic geomagnetic event in human history, we should consider our vulnerability.
Geomagnetic storms are caused by immense activity on the surface of the Sun. Events such as Sunspots, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections of billions of tons of plasma into space at thousands of kilometers per hour can cause havoc with communications networks affecting our modern lives. In this age of satellite communications, where humans are more and more reliant on all forms of wireless communications, we are even more susceptible to damage from such events.
The worst example of this called the “Carrington Event” took place in September 1859 and is the most powerful geomagnetic storm on record. However an event called the “New York Railroad Storm” on May 16 1821 may well hold the record for the most damage caused. This storm began with a sunspot that was 105,000Km long and 34000 kilometers wide.
This event caused three major fires in the US, Canada, and Sweden. The fire in Brewster NY, was caused by strong induced currents in telegraph wires at a railway station which burned to the ground. The second fire destroyed a telephone exchange in Sweden and the third occurred in Ontario. Scientific observations at the time, including one taken at Watheroo WA, show reports of large earth currents flowing in telegraph and telephone systems, 15mA in South Australia, 50mA in Western Australia, and 200mA in Sweden. In New York and Chicago, these currents induced voltages of over 1000 volts.
More recently, on March 13 1989, a solar storm disrupted power in Canada. Ground induced currents caused by solar activity entered the power grid of the Hydro-Quebec Power Authority and caused the entire grid to collapse for 9 hours. Six million people were affected. The event also caused a loss of communications with several geostationary satellites and interfered with Radio Free Europe shortwave radio broadcasts.
Now almost 100 years since the 1921 event, we have developed a larger electrical and communications network which is even more susceptible to geomagnetic interference. If an event such as the “New York Railroad Storm” were to occur today, the damage would undoubtedly disable parts of the global power grid and consumer electronics at an unprecedented level.
Would you be prepared if power was lost during a storm? As we have seen during recent weather events communication is vital and having a backup plan is imperative.
Here at Tecsun Radios Australia, we stock some of the best emergency radios. Featuring solar powered and hand crank options ensuring that even if the power has been out for days or you are out of batteries you are still able to receive emergency announcements and coverage.
We recommend the Tecsun DE13 Emergency AM/FM/SW Solar Radio Solar Powered Radio with inbuilt Hand Crank Dynamo Charging. Get it here.
Shortwave radio, the original and most crucial form of radio communication in our history, and dropped by many countries 20 years ago, is set for a resurgence!
Used heavily during the Cold War, shortwave was vital for communications in isolated areas.
After the war, listenership dwindled and as the equipment aged and the energy bills continued to accrue, one of the first in line for budget cuts was shortwave, with no importance placed on replacing it.
Not unlike the song, “Video Killed the Radio Star”, many say that satellites and the internet killed shortwave radio.
Really it is a combination of technology and content delivered directly to the savvy FM listener and streamed to the cell phone obsessed user generally at a reduced cost compared to shortwave.
As Shortwave dwindled, radio began being broadcast in FM and DAB modes to radios, devices, and laptops, with thousands of listening options.
Many new broadcasters began piggybacking on the local popular informative radio stations.
This new technology, however, in many countries is not without its issues. At first, it might appear that these are cheaper and more modern options, but slow buffering times, multiplexed DAB+, excessive and expensive cost of data in many countries, as well as a listener’s preference for anonymity has seen a return to shortwave.
As mentioned in previous articles the emerging ability to transmit shortwave radio digitally using DRM ( Digital Radio Mondiale) has seen a resurgence in the use of shortwave due to its wide coverage and heavily reduced cost.
Specifically China has opted to use DRM Shortwave to provide full coverage to the areas between the large cities.
China National Radio broadcasts from five upgraded sites 80 hours a day with seven to eight transmitters sending shortwave DRM to most areas of North China, East China, South China and Southwest China. Russia is also airing DRM in shortwave over huge areas of Siberia.
India is now looking to increase its three DRM shortwave transmitters for further national and international reach.
Several CRN transmitters beam enormous DRM signals into our part of the world daily.
Indonesia and Brazil are also said to have expressed interest in adapting their shortwave analog over to DRM for greater coverage.
As mentioned previously Vanuatu, has recently opted for DRM shortwave to save lives in disaster situations by using its integrated emergency warning capability, and a site in the United States has recently started broadcasting in DRM the popular Radio Marti programs toward central and Latin America.
As many areas of the world are re-discovering the value of shortwave we may see the resurgence of shortwave being replaced by its new digital form.
Are you interested in listening to Shortwave radio? Imagine picking up and decoding radio stations from remote areas of the world? Re connect with the world during this time of isolation.
Tecsun Radios Australia has a great range of Shortwave and Digital radios available.
Shop the range here
Russia is considering the re-introduction of shortwave radio using DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), a technology which is designed to cover large areas at modest operating cost.
Prior to the 2000’s, shortwave was broadcast in Chukotka for communications across the far northeastern region of Russia and the Northern Sea but was gradually discontinued as funding became more difficult to obtain.
Due to the unique capabilities of shortwave transmissions coupled with the new capabilities of DRM, an audience size of a few thousand spread over a vast area could be best serviced by shortwave again.
Transmitting shortwave digitally offers the advantage of long-distance coverage and a higher fidelity signal. Text information such as news and weather can also be embedded in the signal and decoded at the receiver. Recent studies show that DRM is just as reliable as analog shortwave over this distance via single-hop transmission. An added benefit of DRM transmissions is they use a quarter of the power that analog transmissions.
This new shortwave service is named Radio Purga (“Radio Blizzard”), a joint project between the government in Chukotka and the Far Eastern Regional Center and the government in Chukotka
The target audience includes people in the Northern Sea including mariners, miners, geologists, hunters, and nomadic reindeer herders. All of these groups would benefit from both news and weather as well as traditional entertainment programming.
A range of test transmissions commenced in August 2019 via different DRM modes and bandwidths to trial “hardware setup and determine signal acceptability,” with the goal of covering over 95% of the area. Programming consists of a music loop and interestingly has been heard as far away as the United States.
Currently the broadcaster is still carrying out transmission tests on 5935, 6025, 11860 and 15325Khz.
Radio Purga’s regular programming is expected to begin sometime in the next few months. One of shortwave’s finest capabilities is to communicate to hard-to-reach locations. Radio Purga’s audience is spread over a remote and vastly spread region.
Resuming shortwave via DRM will provide the population with a critical communication source in both audio and text.