An ocean radar at Refugio State Beach, California. The Interdisciplinary Oceanography Group at the University of California Santa Barbara operates the radar, which is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation. Credit: Photo courtesy Dr. Libe Washburn, University of California, Santa Barbara.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), charged by the United
Nations with coordinating global radio spectrum use, recently came to an
agreement that will foster improvements in ocean radar technology,
which may eventually allow near real-time detection and tracking of
tsunamis and prediction of the likely paths of oil spills, ocean debris
and persons lost at sea.
interest in ocean radars increased dramatically in recent years due to
events such as the Gulf oil spill and the massive loss of life caused by
the Indonesian and Japanese tsunamis. Friday’s action by the ITU’s
World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) provided specific radio
frequency bands for ocean radars, which until now operated only on an
informal basis and were subject to immediate shut-down if they caused
interference with other radio systems.
radars are small radio systems typically installed on beaches and use
radio signals to map ocean currents to distances as great as 100 miles.
Users typically employ them for science, including the study of global
ocean currents and their role in weather and climate change.
further technical developments, including a reduction in the time
between taking radar measurements and constructing maps of ocean
currents, ocean radars could be used to alert authorities to the
existence of tsunamis resulting from earthquakes and follow their path
in near real time, allowing better warnings of impending dangers. The
radars may also be able to predict the likely path of persons or vessels
lost at sea and to predict the evolution of debris fields and oil
spills after shipwrecks or oil rig disasters.
WRC’s decision to identify dedicated ocean radar bands will help speed
up technological development of these radars,” said Andrew Clegg, a
radio spectrum manager with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF),
who chaired the international drafting group at the WRC that developed
the ocean radar spectrum solution. “Many countries, particularly those
recently devastated by ocean disasters, were particularly interested in
reaching a global agreement for the use of ocean radars.”
variety of agencies and institutions in the United States fund or
operate ocean radars including NSF, the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, and a large
number of universities and research organizations.
growing importance of radio spectrum use is due to intense demand for
radio spectrum bandwidth by such applications as smart phones, broadband
Internet access, GPS and military systems. The recent WRC action sets
the stage for improved spectrum access specifically for ocean radars,
but each country that desires to operate radars in the identified bands
must implement the plan within their own national rules and regulations,
which will require additional time.
3,000 delegates representing more than 150 different countries attended
the WRC, held in Geneva, Switzerland, from Jan 23-Feb 17. Similar
conferences are held every three to four years.