HF Radio Communications

Space weather impacts radio communication in a number of ways. At frequencies in the 1 to 30 mega Hertz range (known as “High Frequency” or HF radio), the changes in ionospheric density and structure modify the transmission path and even block transmission of HF radio signals completely. These frequencies are used by amateur (ham) radio operators and many industries such as commercial airlines. They are also used by a number of government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense.

There are several types of space weather that can impact HF radio communication. In a typical sequence of space weather storms, the first impacts are felt during the solar flare itself. The solar x-rays from the sun penetrate to the bottom of the ionosphere (to around 80 km). There the x-ray photons ionize the atmosphere and create an enhancement of the D layer of the ionosphere. This enhanced D-layer acts both as a reflector of radio waves at some frequencies and an absorber of waves at other frequencies. The Radio Blackout associated with solar flares occurs on the dayside region of Earth and is most intense when the sun is directly overhead.

Another type of space weather, the Radiation Storm caused by energetic solar protons, can also disrupt HF radio communication. The protons are guided by Earth’s magnetic field such that they collide with the upper atmosphere near the north and south poles. The fast-moving protons have an affect similar to the x-ray photons and create an enhanced D-Layer thus blocking HF radio communication at high latitudes. During auroral displays, the precipitating electrons can enhance other layers of the ionosphere and have similar disrupting and blocking effects on radio communication. This occurs mostly on the night side of the polar regions of Earth where the aurora is most intense and most frequent.

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