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International group agrees on spectrum for ocean radar

Ocean radar

The group charged by the United Nations with coordinating global spectrum use reached an agreement aimed at dedicating spectrum bandwidth to improve the capabilities of ocean radar to monitor likely paths of tsunamis and oil spills, as well as find people lost at sea.

Global interest in ocean radars increased dramatically in recent years due to events like the Gulf oil spill and the killer Indonesian and Japanese tsunamis, said the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on Feb. 21. The ITU completed its World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) on Feb. 17 in Geneva, where it agreed to provide specific radio frequency bands for ocean radars. Until now, said the group, ocean radar operated only on an informal basis and was subject to immediate shut-down if it caused interference with other radio systems.

Ocean radars are small radio systems typically installed on beaches and use radio signals to map ocean currents to distances as great as 100 miles, said the group and users typically employ them for science, including the study of global ocean currents and their role in weather and climate change.

With further technical developments, however, including a reduction in the time between taking radar measurements and constructing maps of ocean currents, ITU said ocean radar 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 radar 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, it said.

"The 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."

A 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.

The 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, said ITU. The recent WRC action, it added, 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.


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