China has built a giant radio antenna that uses five times the area of New York City. It will be used to communicate with submarines.
The Wireless Electromagnetic Method (WEM) project took 13 years and will emit extremely low-frequency radio waves (ELF waves). Those waves have been linked to cancer by the World Health Organisation.
Its transmissions could be picked up by a submarine lurking hundreds of meters under the sea, thus reducing the vessel’s risk of having to resurface to receive transmissions.
China built its first military-grade Super Low-Frequency transmission station in 2009. The United States and Russia already have submarine communication systems.
Project WEM’s main surface structure is a pair of high voltage power supply lines stretching from north to south, east to west on steel lattice towers, which form a cross that is 60km (37 miles) wide and 80km to 100km (50 to 62 miles) long.
At the end of each power line, thick copper wire goes underground through a deep borehole. Two power stations generate strong currents and electrify the ground in slow, repeating pulses, turning the earth underfoot into an active source of electromagnetic radiation.
The radio pulses not only pass through the atmosphere, but travel through the Earth’s crust as well, with a range of up to 3,500km (almost 2,200 miles).
In 2007, the WHO documented a large number of studies linking ELF radiation to a range of illnesses including delusions, sleep deprivation, stress, depression, breast and brain tumors, miscarriages and suicide.
The US Navy built a smaller transmitter, the Wisconsin Test Facility, with two 45km power lines in the Clam Lake area, a place with a low population density. The station emitted ELF waves at 76 hertz and was decommissioned over a decade ago.
In the 1980s the Soviet Union constructed Zevs, a considerably more powerful facility on the Kola Peninsula inside the Arctic Circle.
The Zevs antenna was powered by two 60km electric lines and had a main frequency turned at 82 hertz. The radio waves it produced were believed powerful enough to reach Russian nuclear submarines hidden deep under the Arctic ice cap.
Russia has since provided technical support to China as it started building its own systems, which may include other ELF stations in coastal areas.
The US Navy shut down its Wisconsin transmitter in 2004, saying it no longer needed to rely on ELF radio. The US nuclear submarine fleets use very low frequency or VLF radio waves, with a frequency ranging from 3 to 30 kilohertz, for long-distance communication. The VLF radio waves can carry more information than ELF signals because of this higher frequency, and can penetrate seawater to a depth of up to 40 meters (130 feet).
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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