Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cell phone towers can predict floods

Telecom service subscribers haven't really ever cared about those ugly cell phone towers. After all, what do they do besides connecting people? However, researchers at the Tel Aviv University in Israel have found it useful enough to generate some critical weather data.

The researchers at the university say that cell phone towers could be used as a reliable method to predict the intensity of the next big flood. They've developed a model which analyses cell phone signals, adding a critical component to weather forecasting.
Cell phone towers emit radio waves that are diminished by moisture in the air, a factor that can be used to improve model warnings on flood levels.

"By monitoring the specific and fluctuating atmospheric moisture around cell phone towers throughout America, we can cheaply, effectively, and reliably provide a more accurate 'critical moisture distribution' level for fine-tuning model predictions of big floods," says Prof. Pinhas Alpert, a geophysicist and head of the Porter School for Environmental Education at Tel Aviv University.

Furthermore, TAU researchers measured the rainfall distributions and were able to accurately estimate the size of impending floods before they struck.
This was demonstrated in post-analysis of two case studies of floods in the Judean Desert in Israel, where cell phone towers and flash floods are abundant.

Using real data measurements collected from the towers, researchers demonstrated how microwave links in a cellular network correlated with surface station humidity measurements. The data provided by cell phone towers is the missing link weather forecasters need to improve the accuracy of flood forecasting.

These findings were published in the April edition of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. A link to the study can be found here.

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