Many developing economies suffer from a lack of reliable rainfall measurements due to a lack of funds and a shortage of equipment – such as gauges and radars. Even if countries are equipped with these monitoring instruments, they all have limitations.
Rain gauges, meteorological instruments that collect falling water drops, only provide a very local observation. However, the intensity of rainfall can be completely different from one location to another, sometimes even if it’s less than a few hundreds of metres away.
Radars use radio waves to get precipitation estimates but they may not always be efficient. For example, their beams might get blocked in mountainous regions.
Earth-observing satellites can also provide estimates of rain. These are made from space, using remote sensors. However, the spatial images are coarse, making it hard to analyse rainfall distribution across small areas on the ground.
These constraints pose problems when it comes to monitoring crop yields because many smallholder farmers in developing economies rely on rain-fed agriculture.
Accurate precipitation measurements are essential to farmers. For example, for prevention of over irrigation – this would lead to water saving and more efficient use of fertilisers. Accurate measurements are also desirable for rainfall-based insurance, an important resource to mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries.
In our research venture, we use commercial microwave links – wireless connections between mobile phone towers – from different locations in the world, as an effective low-cost way to estimate rainfall. This adds to previous studies which have shown the same.
However, most of the academic work done so far has been conducted in developed countries pointing mainly to hydro-meteorological applications such as flood prediction.
Our initiative focuses on developing this approach for agricultural needs in developing economies.
Using commercial microwave links
Commercial microwave links are wireless connections which transfer data between mobile phone towers. These links are widely deployed, several tens of meters above the ground, by mobile phone providers all over the world.
Rainfall reduces the signal strength of radio beams between the transmitting and receiving towers. As a result, we can estimate how much rainfall there is based on changes in the quality of the electromagnetic signals. The system can be configured so that signals between towers are recorded over short time periods; for instance, every 15 minutes. This makes it useful for rain monitoring.
In recent years, efforts have been made by the academic community and the private sector to promote the application of this technique in developing countries. However, in terms of scientific publications, until now only a few papers have been published.
In our research venture, we analyse data from a number of mobile phone providers.
An example of such a study recently demonstrated the possible advantage of commercial microwave links, over rain gauges, to detect rainfall in an agricultural field. This was at a tea farm near the town of Kericho, in western Kenya.
Rainfall estimates, acquired by a number of links, were compared with measurements from rain gauges located adjacent to them. While a compelling correlation was observed between the link measurements and rain gauges, the rain gauge method missed a complete rainy episode. Though the gauge is more precise, it provides only a very local observation.
This demonstrates that there’s huge potential in using microwave links in developing countries, where weather monitoring capabilities are often limited.
A sustainable low-cost solution
Many towers are installed in remote areas. This means observations can now happen in places that have been hard to access in the past or where rainfall has never been measured before.
Additionally, the implementation cost is low because the data is already collected and logged by many mobile phone operators in the course of their service quality.
Considering the mobility, and relative ease of installation of the wireless technology in the field, the total number of installed links will likely continue to grow, including particularly, in Africa. Therefore, the proposed method is expected to be available, and sustainable, into the future.
But there are limitations.
Commercial microwave links were designed for communication needs, not measuring rainfall. And so, major uncertainties in measurements do happen.
For example, in rural areas, since towers are sparser, the link lengths will be longer than in urban areas. Technically, in this situation the links are operated in beam wavelengths that are less sensitive to rainfall. As a result of the lower density of the link network and the lower sensitivity of each link in this case, readings will be less accurate.
Therefore, an ideal approach would be to use this technology as a complement to existing tools like rain gauges, radars and satellites. That being said, considering the many cases where there are no monitoring assets at all, the ability to provide information regarding rainfall in the area using mobile phone towers would still be invaluable.
One of the ways this information can be used is in rainfall-based insurance, an important resource to mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries.
Precipitation amounts are closely correlated to agricultural production, so this insurance pays out based on the rainfall measured (by a rain gauge, for example) as an index. A major concern with this insurance is that the contract will fail to properly reflect actual agricultural losses. One key source of this is the potential difference between the local rainfall experienced by farmers covered by such insurance, and the rainfall measurements used to calculate the indemnity.
Since measurements from commercial microwave links can improve the spatial rainfall picture, they present a sustainable solution to reducing such basis risk.
Ultimately, we hope that our findings will mean that farmers will benefit from better designed rainfall-based index insurance and poor households will benefit from more accurate crop yield monitoring.
The study conducted in Kericho, Kenya, was done alongside researchers Prof. Zhongbo (Bob) Su, Prof. Joost C.B. Hoedjes and PhD candidate Kingsley Kwabena Kumah from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.
Noam David, Founder of AtmosCell and Consulting Expert, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; H. Oliver Gao, Professor, Cornell University, and Yanyan Liu, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Airlines have cut international capacity to just half a million seats a week from an average of 5.9 million before the coronavirus shut borders and decimated travel demand, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide.
“There isn’t much more international capacity that can be dropped around the globe,” OAG senior analyst John Grant wrote in a post dated April 20.
Strong domestic capacity has at least helped stem declines in countries such as the U.S., Japan and Indonesia, though demand is lacking, Grant said, adding that nearly 9 in every 10 seats scheduled this week will be on domestic flights.
Total capacity for international and domestic routes has dropped to 29.8 million seats, down more than 70% from January, and could slide below 29 million next week as some more cuts are expected from major carriers. Nobody could have planned for nearly three-quarters of global capacity being cut in just 14 weeks, Grant wrote.
Falling through the 30 million capacity mark highlights how damaging the pandemic is to the airline industry, though it could now be “close to the bottoming out of the capacity crisis,” he said.
Crude oil prices plunged into negative territory on Monday for the first time ever, with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate trading at minus $37.63 per barrel for oil purchased for delivery in May.
That means producers selling oil would have to pay buyers to take it off their hands.
But while it is historic, the floor hasn’t actually collapsed, because oil for June delivery is still trading around $20 a barrel, about where it’s been for several weeks.
Rather, Monday’s price plunge reflects what’s likely a one-day anomaly triggered by the last day of trading for next-month delivery of oil that buyers have no place to store, experts said. Storage tanks are either filled or near full after the coronavirus lockdown cut global demand by about 30% as factories, cars and airplanes sit idled around the world.
When trading for June delivery opens on Tuesday, prices are expected to bounce back to the $20-per-barrel range, said Raye Miller, a longtime New Mexico oilman and president of Regeneration Energy Corp. in Artesia.
“Monday saw the biggest one-day drop in oil prices in history,” Miller said. “But Tuesday, we’ll see the biggest one-day increase in oil prices ever recorded.”
Still, New Mexico producers will take a hit from Monday’s drop, because buyers base the price they pay for oil delivered in May on the average daily price recorded in April. That means Monday’s negatively priced crude will factor into the final price local producers get in May for the oil they put in the pipeline this month, Miller said.
Miller’s company received about $29 per barrel this month for oil it delivered in March.
“The price fluctuations we saw today demonstrated a phenomenon inherent in futures markets that can happen as commodities contracts begin to expire,” New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn told the Journal in an email. “Traders were working to quickly exit positions in the context of infrastructure and storage constraints that have manifested due to a sharp drop in demand.”
Still, Monday’s price plunge shocked many. After the Plains Crude Oil Price Bulletin posted negative oil prices Monday afternoon, Regeneration Energy took a photo of it.
“We’ll frame it to hang on our wall as the lowest price we’ll ever see,” Miller said.
The price of oil has a major effect on New Mexico, which is home to the western section of the massively productive Permian Basin – and tens of thousands of associated jobs. New Mexico’s state government also relies heavily on the energy industry for taxes and royalties. For every $1 drop in price, the state’s budget loses an average of about $22 million in direct oil and gas revenue over a year.
Meanwhile, the plunge in oil sent energy stocks in the S&P 500 to a 3.7% loss, the latest in a dismal 2020 that has caused their prices to nearly halve.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 592.05 points, or 2.4%, to 23,650.44, and the Nasdaq dropped 89.41, or 1%, to 8,560.73. The S&P 500 fell 51.40 points to 2,823.16.
The losses ate into some of the big gains indexes have made since late March, driven lately by investors anticipating the potential reopening of businesses as infections level off in hard-hit areas.
Credit: Albuquerque Journal
Nigeria’s Rivers State has freed 22 Exxon Mobil Corp. employees quarantined last week after their arrest for violating an order restricting movement into the state to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the state government said on Sunday.
Port Harcourt, capital of the southern state, is the hub of the oil industry in Africa’s biggest producer of crude.
On Friday, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said the workers were arrested after entering the state from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State in violation of an executive order restricting movement into the state as part of measures imposed last month to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
He said the workers, whose coronavirus status was unknown, were quarantined in line with relevant health protocols and would be charged in court.
“The Rivers State Government on Sunday released the 22 Staff of Exxon Mobil who were arrested for violating the State Executive Order restricting movement in the state,” said a statement issued by the governor’s spokesman, Simeon Nwakaudu.
They were released without charge “following interventions by well-meaning Nigerians” and no charges will be pressed, the statement said.
Exxon Mobil did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Rivers State has recorded two cases of coronavirus so far. Nigeria has 541 confirmed cases nationwide and 19 deaths. The most high profile victim was the president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, who died on Friday.
Nigeria’s petroleum regulator has ordered oil and gas companies to reduce their offshore workforce and move to 28-day staff rotations, instead of the usual 14 days, to help to curb the spread of the coronavirus.