As the sky becomes increasingly clogged with noise from billions of cellphones, federal agencies are fighting for radio waves used to help anticipate climate change.
NOAA and NASA are on one side. They’ve created space satellites that passively gather and interpret the faint energy signals emitted by changes in water vapor, temperature, rain, and wind, which are used to forecast future weather patterns.
They have the support of meteorological and earth specialists, who claim that 5G will jeopardize the signals.
the upcoming “fifth generation” of wireless communication devices, which could generate enough electronic noise on radio spectrums to impair forecasting skills and skew computer models used to anticipate climate change development.
Wireless communication firms, smartphone makers, and the Federal Communications Commission are on the opposite side (FCC),
The use of the radio frequency spectrum is governed by this law. To meet the rapid growth of 5G, the FCC has launched a series of steps to let corporations “share” spectrums utilized by federal science-related entities.
The FCC has been a proponent of 5G since 2016, when its former chairman, Tom Wheeler, implemented a strategy dubbed “Spectrum Frontiers” to encourage the deployment of the technology.
“The internet of everything will be completely realized in a 5G world,” he stated. “Everything that can be connected will be connected,” says the narrator.
He told reporters that making more space for billions of smartphones and other 5G devices is “damn critical” because it means “US companies will be first out of the gate.”
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology raised concerns in 2019 about two NOAA and NASA studies predicting that the FCC’s rush to auction off radio frequency space may disturb meteorological data needed for forecasts.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at the time, Ajit Pai, answered that there was no evidence of potential tampering and continued with the auction.
The Government Accountability Office should be investigated, according to committee leaders (GAO).
Demand for spectrum space is “growing exponentially,” according to research issued last month, with 25 billion to 50 billion devices contending for space by 2025.
The disagreements among US agencies on weather and climate forecasting issues were described as “very heated,” according to the report.
According to the GAO, the FCC sought backing from the Trump White House, despite the lack of agreement.
The FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers program’s looser rules became the US position.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), situated in Geneva, Switzerland, then adopted it. It is in charge of writing the worldwide regulations.
Officials from NOAA and NASA are concerned, according to the GAO, that the drive for less rigorous rules on the wider sharing of weather-related spectrums will continue at the ITU’s next meeting in 2023.
William Mahoney III, associate director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the leaders of the science-related institutions involved in the disagreement, said, “These data are critically vital.”
In an interview, he said that the most pressing issue concerns a frequency known as 24 gigahertz.
Natural microwave signals created by water vapor at various levels in the atmosphere are monitored by weather satellites.
A microwave radiometer is a gadget they employ.
Because the signals from the varied presence of water vapor allow satellites to investigate the weather evolving in different levels of the atmosphere, “it is one of those things that are a gift of nature,” Mahoney said.
He went on to say that the data acquired by orbiting satellites can “make the difference between a blue sky day and a tornado day,” and that it accounts for a third of present forecasting skills.
However, during a cacophonous rush of phone signals, the signals produced by water vapor and other natural weather fingerprints become fainter.
“If you have a vast network of cellular towers near the ground that are broadcasting many orders of magnitude more electricity,
Some of that will reflect upward, making sections of the atmosphere incredibly noisy,” Mahoney predicted.
The consequences of losing data are severe.
“This isn’t about academics or researchers losing access to a data set,” says the author.
“This is about not having the information necessary to preserve life and property,” Mahoney told House Science Committee members.
Accurate weather data is required for agriculture, aviation, and water management, he added.
For US defense agencies, as well as for monitoring wildfires and regulating energy output.
MALFUNCTIONS THAT ARE ‘INSIDIOUS’
A second band, operating at 16 megahertz, connects satellites to signals from several automated gauges used by the United States to measure water levels in streams and rivers, as well as wind speeds.
The satellites gather the signals and deliver the data to the National Weather Service and private weather reporting businesses, which are likewise concerned about rising “noise levels,” according to Mahoney.
President of the American Weather and Climate Industry Association, Steven Root
AWCIA members including AccuWeather, UNISYS Weather, and WeatherBank, Inc., complained to the committee that the interference created by sharing the band “would considerably endanger the provision of essential weather information by AWCIA members like AccuWeather, UNISYS Weather, and WeatherBank, Inc.”
that the nation counts on to provide the highest quality information in the event of dangerous weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires.”
Another expert witness told the House panel that the most “insidious” effect of increased noise levels on a weather spectrum would be if they resulted in unnoticed errors or gaps in weather data.
The erroneous data could end up in computer models that scientists use to anticipate future climate behavior, among other things.
According to David Lubar, a project leader on spectrum issues at the Aerospace Corp., there is new technology to detect “dirty” data.
a non-profit organization created by Congress to offer technical assistance on space missions.
According to Lubar, organizations working on the technology don’t have enough money to develop and deploy it on new satellites.
He told the panel, “I am encouraged that this hearing is being convened to examine these issues.”
It’s unclear where the FCC will go next with its 5G Frontier Spectrum policy.
According to the House Science Committee, 29 winning bidders for space on the 24 gigahertz spectrum have already paid over $2 billion.
The FCC “is now laser-focused on developing strong connections with its federal partners and rejuvenating the interagency coordination process so that it can once again achieve outcomes for American consumers and the economy,” according to a spokesman.
He believes that better collaboration between these agencies will result in a greater spectrum and innovation, which will help the United States regain its wireless supremacy.
“We look forward to reviewing the GAO recommendations with other federal agencies.”
In a Congress that is sharply divided into many topics, the House Science Committee appears to have reached a bipartisan agreement that additional cooperation between federal agencies is needed before international radio spectrum laws are enacted.
“The [GAO] study clearly shows that the current process is defective, highlighting several instances where cooperation has broken down.
Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the panel’s top Republican, said, “We can’t afford to have this happen again.”
The chairwoman of the Science Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas),
“Improvements to the interagency process for spectrum auctions are necessary,” he added in a statement to E&E News.
“At a minimum, the FCC must use globally-set norms to preserve both domestic science and our diplomatic standing,” she said.
“We will use scientific evidence to defend important services for our nation,” she said, adding that her group will seek to “ensure that we use scientific evidence to protect critical services for our nation.”