Liquid Radio

Could temporary jets of seawater be used as functioning radio antennas? Apparently so: as PopSci reports, “communications are vital” for vessels at sea, but deck space for “all the large antennas necessary for long-range (and often encrypted) communications” can be hard to come by. “So U.S. Navy R&D lab SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) engineered a clever scheme to turn the ocean’s most abundant resource into communications equipment, making antennas out of geysers of seawater.”

Using arcing vaultworks of oceanwater, like domesticated waves, to beam and receive encrypted telecommunications not only reduces the metal-load of ships—thus also reducing the radar profile of military vessels—it also offers a way to construct “a quick, temporary antenna that could just as easily be dismantled.”

What they [SPAWAR] came up with is little more than an electromagnetic ring and a water pump. The ring, called a current probe, creates a magnetic field through which the pump shoots a steam of seawater (the salt is a key ingredient, as the tech relies on the magnetic induction properties of sodium chloride). By controlling the height and width of the [stream], the operator can manipulate the frequency at which the antenna transmits and receives. An 80-foot-high stream can transmit and receive anywhere from 2 to 400 mHz, though much smaller streams can be used for varying other frequencies, ranging from HF through VHF to UHF.

Turning seawater into a temporary broadcast architecture is absolutely fascinating to me and has some extraordinary design implications for the future. Pirate radio stations made entirely from spiraling pinwheels of saltwater; cell-phone masts disguised as everyday displays spurting seasonally in public parks, from Moscow to Manhattan; TV towers replaced with Busby Berkeley-like aquatic extravaganzas, camouflaging the electromagnetic infrastructure of the city as a gigantic water garden.

[Image: A mountainous display of women closely choreographed with water by Busby Berkeley, via Alexander Trevi’s Pruned].

Given some salt, for instance, the Trevi Fountain could begin retransmitting mobile phone calls throughout the heat-rippling summer landscape of greater Rome. Ultra-refined specialty saltwaters offer dependable signal clarity in audio HD. La Machine de Marly becomes a buried industrial art project, beaming death metal salt hydrologies to garden visitors: a continuous fountain of thundering music on FM, headbanging to seawater hifi. Espionage conspiracies involving elaborate, deep-cover radio links hidden inside public fountains.

So how could this be further explored in the contexts of tidal river waters—Thames Radio!—rogue waves, and even tsunamis? The artistic, architectural, musical, and infrastructural misuse of this technology is something I very much look forward to hearing in the future.

6 thoughts on “Liquid Radio”

  1. Now playing on Liquid Radio, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell.

    By a waterfall I'm calling you hoo hoo hoo
    We can share it all beneath a ceiling of blue … you hoo hoo hoo
    We'll spend a heavenly day
    Here where the whispering waters play … you woo hoo hoo hoo

  2. colorized busby berkeley!! shock horror!!!

    (the best number is still 'shanghai lil' sung by jimmy cagney though)

  3. Would it work with arcs of Urine? I am thinking the induction properties of urea would only enhance signal generation.

  4. Tut tut Geoff, you must be losing your touch, a whole post on this fascinating topic and no thought given to the communication potential of whales' blowholes?! Think of it – whales surfacing to broadcast data spurts … it seemed the obvious Manaughesque iteration of the idea to me!

  5. Yes, well, your cranial cavity is an antenna, but what is the gain? How many decibels better reception do you get with this than without?

  6. Mr. Manaugh,

    I found your visions of Sea Water Antennas' application to design to be very interesting and helpful in understanding how these technologies could be manifested in the field of architecture. If implemented, I feel as though these designs could radically change our perceptions of networking (in a digital sense) and of the city as well, in deciphering where the true "centers" of the cities are and such. It might, as you have mentioned, dictate the actual form of buildings. Further, I think the streams /water flows themselves can create an interesting space that people can actually inhabit, allowing us to not only treasure it from distance but physically engage with it, making it become a true attractor. Do you think the radius of influence of these "waves" will affect city generations somehow? So for example, do you think the areas where the waves are not as strong (and therefore difficult to receive signal) will diminish in number or create a concentration of a certain economic class? It's interesting to think that such an intangible, invisible, immaterial element like frequencies can possibly inform spaces. Thank you for the interesting insight.

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