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Rain crisis hits internet, infrastructure, and your walls

4 March 2022
Downpour puts a dampener on infrastructure
Sydney experts comment on the impact of heavy rains on internet connections, infrastructure, and your residence.

You're not imagining it – rain really does put a dampener on your internet signal

Does your WiFi lag or mobile signal drop out when it's raining? According to telecommunications experts, Professor Branka Vucetic and Professor Yonghui Li, it's not a figment of your imagination.

"Rain absolutely impacts telecommunications," said Professor Li, who researches wireless communications in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

"Mainly, it affects the radio signals of higher frequency and long-range transmissions, such as satellite links that are used for digital TV broadcasting services, internet, GPS and more," he said.

Rain impacts how a signal moves through space and earth's atmosphere, the researchers say.

"Rain affects propagation – the 'behaviour' of radio waves – at very high frequencies," said Professor Vucetic, Director of the Centre for IoT and Telecommunications.

"This includes certain satellite communications and 5G, affecting telecommunications infrastructure, with heavier rain having a more pronounced impact, leading to 'signal attenuation' – the loss of signal strength."

It also appears that the that higher the frequency bands, the greater the power loss.

"Satellite services operating in the Ka (12GHz) and Ku (30GHz) bands, and 5G layers running in the mmwave band (26Hz) are affected by heavy rain," she said.

Development in hazard-prone areas a factor in rising number of disasters 

According to Dr Aaron Opdyke from the School of Civil Engineering, inappropriate development is leading to great disaster risk. 

"In the IPCC’s most recent report released this week, projected increases in direct flood damages are expected to be 1.4 to 2 times higher at 2°C and 2.5 to 3.9 times at 3°C as compared to 1.5°C global warming without adaptation," said Dr Opdyke, who is a humanitarian engineer.

"The long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement signed in 2016 was set at 1.5°C (above pre-industrial levels). While we need to continue taking measures to mitigate climate change, it is also increasingly vital that we adapt to meet climate pressures that will happen regardless under current emission targets."

"Climate change is increasingly blamed as the culprit for the rising number of disasters we are experiencing, but the encroachment of development in hazard-prone areas is playing an equally important role. 

"Flood hazards are only one part of the equation when we talk about disasters. On the other side, vulnerability – the physical, social, economic and environmental factors which increase the susceptibility of our communities to the impacts of natural hazards – often defines whether a disaster happens or not. Where and how we choose to build is equally important."

Got mould? Preventing the wet weather scourge

While we are all suffering from prolonged rain, the fungi are having a party. Yet microbiologist, Professor Dee Carter from the Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases and the Faculty of Science, says we need to kill those vibes for health reasons.

“We need to stop moulds from growing, and the best way to do this is to try to keep moisture levels down. If you have air conditioning this will help to keep the atmosphere dry. If you don't, as soon as the rain stops, open windows and doors to increase ventilation and put on fans to move the air around. If this still doesn't work, it may be necessary to invest in a de-humidifier. 

“Second, we need to clean mould-contaminated materials while keeping our environment safe and free from toxins. Fungi grow best on porous substrates like wood, leather, paper, plaster, and textiles.  If you notice mould growth on ceilings or walls, clean it off with a diluted solution of white vinegar (one part vinegar to four parts of water) - this will kill the fungi and also penetrate into the substrate to prevent further growth. For leather, clean with a leather cleaner, and for wood, a wood oil can be used. Avoid bleach as it creates toxic fumes, and check the ingredients of any mould-busting sprays to ensure they don't contain bleach as the active ingredient - not only is it toxic but it will also degrade in the bottle in about six months, making the cleaner next to useless. For delicate materials where vinegar is not appropriate, use warm soapy water but bear in mind this won't kill the fungus and it may return.  Damp materials should be dried in an oven at low heat or using a fan heater if possible.”

Building engineer Dr Arianna Brambilla from the School of Architecture, Design and Planning agrees - citing properties' structural issues as a contributing mould culprit.

"One in three Australian homes suffer from excessive dampness and mould proliferation, which is exacerbated by inadequate architectural strategies, poor construction practices and bad maintenance.

“Indoor mould is correlated to severe adverse health symptoms, such as severe allergic asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and allergic alveolitis, allergic rhinitis and sinusitis. Furthermore, mould is responsible for early biodeterioration of building materials, requiring anticipated renovation works.”

Luisa Low

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering & IT)

Loren Smith

Media and PR Adviser (Science)

Sally Quinn

Media and PR Adviser (Creative Arts)

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