A Voice Moving Over The Waters

[Image: The Jim Creek Naval Radio Station from Popular Mechanics].

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been looking at a variety of large terrestrial antenna sites built for communicating with submarines. This is the field of Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Extremely Low Frequency radio transmission (the latter wonderfully abbreviated as ELF).

This is a topic already explored here several years ago, of course, with the Project Sanguine antenna field in Wisconsin, for example, and the Cutler array up on a peninsula in Maine. But a few other examples came up that I thought I’d post.

One is the example you see above: the Jim Creek Naval Radio Station in the woods of Washington State, as featured here in an old issue of Popular Mechanics. The Jim Creek facility is basically an entire valley in the Pacific Northwest, denuded of its trees and then strung with the harp-like cables of a mega-antenna. This antenna then broadcasts “the voice that crosses the Pacific,” as Popular Mechanics describes it, including U.S. military ships and submarines.

[Image: The antenna field at Jim Creek, via Wikipedia].

Briefly, although it’s technically irrelevant, it is nonetheless interesting in this context to read about the so-called “Hessdalen lights,” a phenomenon that appears to be caused by natural electrical currents moving through a remote Norwegian valley.

The scientific explanation for these “lights” is incredible.

Back in 2011, New Scientist reported, a scientific team “analyzed rock samples from Hessdalen and found that it is a valley of two halves: the rocks on one side of the Hesja river are rich in zinc and iron, those on the other are rich in copper. Then, during the 2012 mission someone mentioned an abandoned sulphur mine in the valley. ‘For me it was news,’ says [head scientist Jader Monari from the Institute of Radio Astronomy]. ‘We found zinc and iron on one side and copper on the other. If there is sulphur in the water in the middle, it makes a perfect battery.’”

By a weird fluke of geochemistry, the entire valley is a natural electrical cell! Now imagine a valley somewhere—in Washington State, say—acting as a giant natural radio transmitter: a geological radio station broadcasting signals out to sea.

In any case, here is the Jim Creek facility on Google Maps.

Two other quick things to mention: as a commenter pointed out here a few years ago, there is a spectacular naval-communications facility located on a peninsula in Western Australia called the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station.

[Image: Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station, via Google Maps].

As described by the Australian government, the facility “consists of one central tower surrounded by two concentric circles each of six smaller towers ranging from 304 to 387 meters in height and is 2.54 km in diameter. It communicates over immense distances with submerged submarines in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”

According to this commenter, the station “has an eerie suggestion of sacred geometry[:] pentagons and symmetrical shapes, all concentric. It is said that under the array, light bulbs held in the hand will glow.” This is not impossible; recall the work of artist Richard Box.

Indeed, seen on Google Maps, the facility is breathtaking. Be sure to zoom out to get a sense of how isolated this place is. Here is a view of the antennas from the nearby beach.

Finally, there is something called ZEVS. ZEVS is a secretive, Soviet-era electromagnetic facility and submarine-communication antenna array that allegedly exists somewhere beneath the forests of the Kola Peninsula.

There’s not a ton of information about it online, but I’m also just lazily Googling things at the moment and have undoubtedly missed something; if you have more details, by all means please feel free to share.

Global Positioning Shift

australia[Image: Australia, rendered by Neema Mostafavi for NASA].

Australia, it turns out, is not quite where maps think it is. Thanks to plate tectonics, the island nation is moving north by 1.5 centimeters a year, which means that the entire country is now nearly five feet further north than existing cartography suggests it should be.

As a result, Australia’s lat/long coordinates are going “to shift,” the BBC reports.

Interestingly, “the body responsible for the change said it would help the development of self-driving cars, which need accurate location data to navigate.” In other words, the navigational capabilities of autonomous vehicles and other self-driving robots are, at least indirectly, affected by plate tectonics—by the ground literally moving beneath their wheels.

“If the lines [of latitude and longitude] are fixed, you can put a mark in the ground, measure its co-ordinate, and it will be the same co-ordinate in 20 years,” explained Dan Jaksa of Geoscience Australia. “It’s the classical way of doing it.”
Because of the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates, these local co-ordinates drift apart from the Earth’s global co-ordinates over time.
“If you want to start using driverless cars, accurate map information is fundamental,” said Mr Jaksa.
“We have tractors in Australia starting to go around farms without a driver, and if the information about the farm doesn’t line up with the co-ordinates coming out of the navigation system there will be problems.”

Put another way, gaps have been opening up between the world of robotic navigation and the actual, physical barriers those machines seek to navigate.

You could perhaps argue that there is our Australia—that is, a human Australia of streets, walls, and buildings—and then there is the machines’ Australia, a parallel yet intersecting world of skewed reference points and offset walls, a kind of ghost nation, inhabited only by robots, departing further and further from the limits of human geographic experience every day.

aussie
[Image: Via the Australian Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping].

Of course, this would not be the first time that the accuracy of geographic information has a measurable effect on precision agriculture. However, it is also not the first time that geographers have realized that they don’t know precisely where a country really is.

In his recent book about GPS, Pinpoint, author Greg Milner writes about “the geopolitical importance of geodesy,” or the study of the Earth’s exact geometric shape (it is an “oblate spheroid”).

“The geopolitical significance of geodesy increased with the onset of the Cold War,” Milner writes. “In a very real sense, the West did not know the exact location of the USSR”—and, thus, did not know exactly how or where to target its missiles. “‘Missiles were the big drivers in getting the datums tied down,’ Gaylord Green remembers. ‘If I wanted to hit a target in Russia, I couldn’t hit squat if I didn’t have their datum tied down to mine.’”

Briefly, it’s worth pointing out a fascinating side-note from Milner’s book: “The trajectory a missile follows is influenced by the gravity field where it is launched, and its aim can be disrupted by the gravity at the target, so countries often kept their gravity data classified.” I love the John le Carré-like implications of classified gravity data, including what it might take to smuggle such info out of an enemy nation.

But let’s go back to the missile thing: in addition to the question of how farm equipment and other self-driving vehicles can successfully navigate the landscape when they don’t, in fact, have the correct terrestrial coordinates, Australia’s strange misplacement on global maps implies that every potential military target in the country would also have been roughly five feet away from where existing charts say they are.

An old, uncorrected missile system in a decaying military base somewhere mistakenly fires sixty years from now, rockets off toward Australia… and plummets into the sea, missing its coastal target by several feet. Plate tectonics as a slow national defense mechanism.

Read more at the BBC.

The Mushroom Tunnel of Mittagong

[Image: Shiitake logs on racks in the Mittagong mushroom tunnel. All photos by the author].

Note: This is a guest post by Nicola Twilley.

As Geoff mentioned here on BLDGBLOG a few weeks ago, we spent our last full day in Australia touring the Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm with its founder and owner, Dr. Noel Arrold. Three weeks earlier, at a Sydney farmers’ market, we had been buying handfuls of his delicious Shimeji and Chestnut mushrooms to make a risotto, when the vendor told us that they’d all been grown in a disused railway tunnel southwest of the city, in Mittagong.

[Image: The mushroom tunnel, on the left, was originally built in 1886 to house a single-track railway line. By 1919, it had to be replaced with the still-functioning double-track tunnel to its right, built to cope with the rise in traffic on the route following the founding of Canberra, Australia’s purpose-built capital city. The tunnel is still state property: the mushroom farm exists on a five-year lease].

The idea of re-purposing abandoned civic infrastructure as a site for myco-agriculture was intriguing, to say the least, so we were thrilled when Dr. Arrold kindly agreed to take the time to give us a tour (Li-Sun is not usually open to the public).

Dr. Arrold has been growing mushrooms in the Mittagong tunnel for more than twenty years, starting with ordinary soil-based white button mushrooms and Cremini, before switching to focus on higher maintenance (and more profitable) exotics such as Shimeji, Wood-ear, Shiitake, and Oyster mushrooms.

[Images: (top) Dr. Arrold with a bag of mushroom spawn. He keeps his mushroom cultures in test-tubes filled with boiled potato and agar, and initially incubates the spawn on rye or wheat grains in clear plastic bags sealed with sponge anti-mould filters before transferring it to jars, black bin bags, or plastic-wrapped logs; (middle) Shimeji and (bottom) pink oyster mushrooms cropping on racks inside the tunnel. Dr. Arrold came up with the simple but clever idea of growing mushrooms in black bin bags with holes cut in them. Previously, mushrooms were typically grown inside clear plastic bags. The equal exposure to light meant that the mushrooms fruited all over, which made it harder to harvest without missing some].

A microbiologist by training, Dr. Arrold originally imported his exotic mushroom cultures into Australia from their traditional homes in China, Japan, and Korea. Like a latter-day Tradescant, he regularly travels abroad to keep up with mushroom growing techniques, share his own innovations (such as the black plastic grow-bags shown above), and collect new strains.

He showed us a recent acquisition, which he hunted down after coming across it in his dinner in a café in Fuzhou, and which he is currently trialling as a potential candidate for cultivation in the tunnel. Even though all his mushroom strains were originally imported from overseas (disappointingly, given its ecological uniqueness, Australia has no exciting mushroom types of its own), Dr. Arrold has refined each variety over generations to suit the conditions in this particular tunnel.

Since there is currently only one other disused railway tunnel used for mushroom growing in the whole of Australia, his mushrooms have evolved to fit an extremely specialised environmental niche: they are species designed for architecture.

[Images: (top) Logs on racks (Taiwanese style) and mounted on the wall (Chinese style) in the tunnel; (bottom) Wood-ear mushrooms grow through diagonal slashes in plastic bags filled with chopped wheat straw].

The tunnel for which these mushrooms have been so carefully developed is 650 metres long and about 30 metres deep. Buried under solid rock and deprived of the New South Wales sunshine, the temperature holds at a steady 15º Celsius. The fluorescent lights flick on at 5:30 a.m. every day, switching off again exactly 12 hours later. The humidity level fluctuates seasonally, and would reach an unacceptable aridity in the winter if Dr. Arrold didn’t wet the floors and run a fogger during the coldest months.

In all other respects, the tunnel is an unnaturally accurate concrete and brick approximation of the prevailing conditions in the mushroom-friendly deep valleys and foggy forests of Fujian province. This inadvertent industrial replicant ecosystem made me think of Swiss architecture firm Fabric‘s 2008 proposal for a “Tower of Atmospheric Relations” (pdf).

[Image: Renderings of Fabric’s “Tower of Atmospheric Relations,” showing the stacked volumes of air and the resulting climate simulations].

Fabric’s ingenious project is designed to generate a varying set of artificial climates (such as the muggy heat of the Indian monsoon, or the crisp air of a New England autumn day) entirely through the movements of the air that is trapped inside the tower’s architecture (i.e. by means of convection, condensation, thermal inertia, and so on).

If you could perhaps combine this kind of atmosphere-modifying architecture with today’s omnipresent vertical farm proposals, northern city dwellers could simultaneously avoid food miles and continue to enjoy bananas.

[Images: (top) Li-Sun employees unwrap mushroom logs before putting them on racks in the tunnel. The logs are made by mixing steamed bran or wheat, sawdust from thirty-year-old eucalyptus, and lime in a concrete mixer, packing it into plastic cylinders, and inoculating them with spawn. (middle) Fruiting Shiitake logs on racks in the tunnel. Once their mushrooms are harvested, the logs make great firewood. (bottom) The Shiitake log shock tank – Dr. Arrold explained that the logs crop after one week in the tunnel, and then sit dormant for three weeks, until they are “woken up” with a quick soak in a tub of water, after which they are productive for three or four more weeks. “Shiitake,” said Dr. Arrold, in a resigned tone, “are the most trouble – and the biggest market.”]

Outside of the tunnel, Dr. Arrold also grows Enoki, King Brown, and Chestnut mushrooms. These varieties prefer different temperatures (6º, 17º, and 18º Celsius respectively), so they are housed in climate-controlled Portakabins.

[Images: (top) The paper cone around the top of the enoki jar helps the mushrooms grow tall and thin. (second) Chestnut mushrooms grow in jars for seven weeks: four to fruit, and three more to sprout to harvest size above the jar’s rim. (third) Thousands of mushroom jars are stacked from floor to ceiling. Dr. Arrold starting growing these mushroom varieties in jars two years ago, and hasn’t had a holiday since. (fourth) Empty mushroom jars are sterilised in the autoclave between crops, so that disease doesn’t build up. (bottom) The clean jars are filled with sterilised substrate using a Japanese-designed machine, before being inoculated with spawn].

The fact that the King Brown and Chestnut mushrooms only thrive at a higher temperature than the railway tunnel provides makes their cultivation much more expensive. Their ecosystem has to be replicated mechanically, rather than occuring spontaneously within disused infrastructure.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether there might be another tunnel, cave, or even abandoned bunker in New South Wales that currently maintains a steady 17º Celsius and is just waiting to be colonised by King Brown mushrooms growing, like ghostly thumbs, out of thousands of glass jars.

[Image: Temperature map of the London Underground system (via the BBC, where a larger version is also available), compiled by Transport for London’s “Cool the Tube” team].

In the UK, for instance, Transport for London has kindly provided this fascinating map of summertime temperatures on various tube lines. Most are far too hot for mushroom growing (not to mention commuter comfort). Nonetheless, perhaps the estimated £1.56 billion cost of installing air-conditioning on the surface lines could be partially recouped by putting some of the system’s many abandoned service tunnels and shafts to use cultivating exotic fungi. These mushroom farms would be buried deep under the surface of the city, colonizing abandoned infrastructural hollows and attracting foodies and tourists alike.

[Image: A very amateur bit of Photoshop work: Li-Sun Mushrooms as packaged for Australian supermarket chain Woolworths, re-imagined as Bakerloo Line Oyster Mushrooms].

Service shafts along the hot Central line might be perfect for growing Chestnut Mushrooms, while the marginally cooler Bakerloo line has several abandoned tunnels that could replicate the subtropical forest habitat of the Oyster Mushroom. And – unlike Dr. Arrold’s Li-Sun mushrooms, which make no mention of their railway tunnel origins on the packaging – I would hope that Transport for London would cater to the locavore trend by labeling its varietals by their line of origin.

[Images: Shiitake logs on racks in the Mittagong mushroom tunnel].

Speculation aside, our visit to the Mittagong Mushroom Tunnel was fascinating, and Dr. Arrold’s patience in answering our endless questions was much appreciated. If you’re in Australia, it’s well worth seeking out Li-Sun mushrooms: you can find them at several Sydney markets, as well as branches of Woolworths.

[Image: Nicola Twilley is the author of Edible Geography, where this post has been simultaneously published].

Monocular Landscapes, Unmanned Drones, and the Orbital Future of Australian Archaeology

The new magazine Monocle has been getting loads of press lately, from both lovers and haters; and while I can’t necessarily say that I’m one or the other, I will admit to erring on the side of enthusiasm.
There’s some great stuff in there.

I’ve only got the first issue, however, so I’m not exactly an informed reader; and I won’t be performing a rigorous review of the magazine here – discussing its design, intentions, etc. etc. etc. I simply want to point out a few cool articles that have an architectural or landscape bent.
Which is quite a large part of the magazine, as it happens.
First, for instance, we take a brief trip to Paris, where we step down onto the Champs-Elysées and learn that a Citroën “flagship showroom” will soon open up, putting shiny cars with waxed bonnets on display in the window. Then there’s a glossy photo-essay on Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, “the city were timing is everything” (they manufacture watches). And there’s a quick visit to the nearby town of Sedrun, Switzerland, where the Gotthard Base Tunnel “is being dug more than 600m below the [earth’s surface], through nearly 58km of Massif stone.” A subterranean train station, located at the midpoint of the tunnel, will be “linked to the surface by the world’s tallest lift.” Long-term readers may note that this same tunnel was mentioned on BLDGBLOG back in December.

[Image: Gotthard Base Tunnel, via Wikipedia].

Awesomely, Monocle then turns its cyclopean gaze onto the empty skies above Kemijärvi, Finland, north of the Arctic Circle, where “a test centre for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)” has opened. The test center is run by a firm called Robonic; Robonic “has taken advantage of the vast, virtually unused airspace – a rarity in Europe – above Finnish Lapland to create the only private test centre in the world devoted solely to UAVs.” This would also seem to be the perfect setting for a new novel by J.G. Ballard. Or an Alfred Hitchcock film: unmanned drones fly state secrets across the Arctic Circle…
Meanwhile, could you use these launchers, I wonder, to hurl small buildings into the sky? And if you could, would you do it?
Frustratingly, the article doesn’t ask these questions.

[Image: The launcher for a UAV; courtesy of Robonic].

Moving on, we read, Budapest wants to clean up its river; as it is, the Danube is now “a muddy grey-brown, thanks in part to the sewage gushing out underneath Elizabeth Bridge” – which is a structure, not a woman.
Apparently a “warehouse district” will soon be built, modeled after the Docklands in London.
There’s also a great article on China’s bankrolling of infrastructural construction projects throughout Africa:

China’s influence in Africa is growing at an unprecedented rate. Across the continent the Chinese are building stadiums, parliaments, roads, offering their expertise as well as they wallet. But China is not just giving to Africa, it is taking too. By the end of next year China will have become the world’s largest importer of oil, and most of it will come from Africa. China is also in desperate need of minerals such as copper, aluminium and iron ore – and African nations are willing to provide them.

This topic was also previously explored on BLDGBLOG.
I’m going on a bit here, I have to say, but there’s even a feature-length exposé on Bartenbach LichtLabor (BLL) and their “daylight-redirection” scheme in Rattenberg, Austria – a project Pruned told us about so long ago.
Monocle explains how BLL plans “to create an elaborate system of heliostats and fixed mirrors that could bounce sunlight from a nearby mountaintop on to a hill opposite and into the main street’s gift shops and cafés.” Without these mirrors – and their “secondary mirrors,” in turn – the town would spend “almost four months of the year in the shadow of Rat mountain.” In the shadow of Rat mountain!
The English name alone would cause depression.

[Image: The lighting technologies of Bartenbach LichtLabor].

To test these devices, BLL has constructed an “artificial sky… packed with fluorescent lamps, translucent lamps and LEDs.” It’s referred to as “the ultimate toy for a lighting geek.”
Anyway, I could go on and on – it’s an impressive magazine.
However, I do have to mention, finally, the one article I was actually intending to write about here before I started drinking coffee: on page 70, there’s a short, one-column piece about Alice Gorman.
Gorman is an Australian archaeologist whose university homepage states her interests as “material culture relating to space exploration, including terrestrial launch sites like Woomera (South Australia), Kourou (French Guiana) and Hammaguir (Algeria).” She also studies “orbital debris” and “planetary landing sites.”
Gorman’s got a blog called Space Age Archaeology; she’s got a research abstract online discussing “the archaeological record of human endeavours beyond the atmosphere” (!); and she’s got a downloadable PDF about all of the above. Vaguely similar topics, meanwhile, pop up in an old – and somewhat confusingly typeset – BLDGBLOG post called “White men shining lights into the sky“…
Monocle further tells us that Gorman has been “calling on the United Nations this month to create a protected ‘heritage list'” for orbital objects, “including the Vanguard 1 satellite, launched in 1958 and now the oldest man-made object in orbit.”
Gorman: “Maybe the only evidence that a country has a right to be in geostationary orbit will be [the presence of] an old satellite.” As space fills up with more and more junk – not to mention working satellites – she says: “It’s not impossible that being able to claim access to an orbit could be a bit like Aboriginal people in Australia being able to say, ‘This is where my ancestors camped.'”

[Image: The International Space Station].

A few things: 1) Last week I interviewed science fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson for BLDGBLOG and I asked him about this very topic – directly referencing Monocle: will we yet see an archaeology of space, complete with in-orbit excavation sites, etc. etc. etc.? I hope to have that interview up and public within the month.
2) The very idea of an orbiting, geostationary archaeological site strikes me as so amazing, and so fun to think about, that I almost can’t believe it. What will happen, say, in 400 years, or 900 years, or 1500 years, when the International Space Station has become like Petra or Skara Brae or even Macchu Picchu – the lost and dusty relic of a dead civilization – visited by space tourists with a thing for archaeology, snapping photos of themselves beside old push-button consoles as the sun rises through command windows in the background…? Masked grad students earn summer credits in Forensic Anthropology, roping off portions of the Station, mapping ancient social dynamics as dictated by architectural space…
Ruins in orbit around the earth!
Anyway, I found the first issue of Monocle to be really exciting and well-done, and I’m looking forward to issues two, three, four, etc.
Although… note to Monocle: it is actually cheaper to buy the magazine issue by issue here in the States; subscribing is nearly 30% more expensive.