4th November, 2022
By Chijioke Okoronkwo
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has inaugurated the Virginia Tech. Nigerian Bowen Equatorial Aeronomy Radar (VT-NigerBEAR) at Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State.
Performing the inauguration on Friday at the institution’s premises, Osinbajo said it was the first and currently the only deployment of an equatorial-low-latitude SuperDARN in the world.
The project involves local and international teams and institutions, including the Virginia Tech SuperDarn HF radar group, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Bowen University and the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
According to the vice president, the VT NigerBear is the 36th Super Dual Auroral Radar Network or SuperDarn, for short, in the world.
“The SuperDarn, as we have heard, is a network of High Frequency (HF) radars that look into Earth’s upper atmosphere. Radars operate round the clock and they observe the motion of charged particles (plasma) in the ionosphere and other effects that provide scientists with information on Earth’s space environment.
“Their work provides insights into space weather hazards. So all long-distance High-Frequency signals such as in ocean-going vessels, aircraft, global broadcast communications and short-wave radio communication may be affected by irregularities in the ionosphere.
“These irregularities degrade HF and GPS signals; the SuperDarn discovers these irregularities so that remedial action may then be taken.”
He said that the first SuperDarn monitoring conditions of the near-Earth space environment in the high latitude regions achieved its official status in 1995.
Osinbajo said that in 2005, the “mid-latitude” SuperDARN began operating at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, USA.
He said that the second was deployed in Hokkaido, Japan in, 2006.
“Today, there are 21 mid-latitude SuperDARN radars across the world, providing immense technology advantages at the mid-latitude regions.
“But irregularities in the ionosphere are also found in the lower latitudes, the equatorial low latitudes, and because there was no SuperDarn, the causes of degrading HF and GPS signals have remained a mystery.
“Now our own SuperDarn radar, the VTNigerBear will resolve that mystery. The VTNigerBear is the first and currently the only deployment of an equatorial-low-latitude SuperDARN anywhere in the world.
“This is a major leap forward in finding solutions to the degradation of HF and GPS signals and will directly impact so many aspects of life and commerce.
“The extensive experience of the SuperDARN creates opportunities for Nigeria to leverage existing expertise, information and data as she joins a global network with experience spanning decades.”
Osinbajo said the project could radically transform communications – infrastructure, space research, equipment design, geo-mapping, forecasting and prediction of atmospheric, climatic and oceanic conditions within Nigeria and the near low latitudes.
He added that it could be useful for offshore oil exploration activities, and support the activities of the navy by measuring ocean wave heights, surface currents, and surface wind directions over vast, remote areas on Nigerian waterways.
According to him, Nigeria must utilise the data obtained in collaboration with the network to contribute to the understanding of space weather, its benefits and disadvantages and its impact on operations such as radio and satellite communications, oil pipelines and power grids.
“But perhaps more importantly the success of this project will serve as a template for other high-level research and scientific collaborations between Nigerian and international partner institutions by connecting results to industry and converting data to useful information for commercial and social good projects.
“We are all extremely proud of Bowen University and the team that has worked on this project, placing Nigeria on the SuperDARN global map and in the network of nations that play host to the international scientific radar network,” he said.
Meanwhile, the vice president commended the Vice Chancellor, of Bowen University, Prof. Joshua Ogunwole, for his leadership on the project.
He also acknowledged the Principal investigator of the project, Dr Olawale Bolaji, of the University of Lagos, Prof. Babatunde Rabiu of NASRDA and other partners of the project for their support.