Tel Aviv, Israel – Researchers have found a new way of predicting the severity of floods – by analyzing cellphone signals.
“By monitoring the specific and fluctuating atmospheric moisture around cell phone towers throughout America, we can cheaply, effectively and reliably provide a more accurate ‘critical moisture distribution’ level for fine-tuning model predictions of big floods,” said Professor Pinhas Alpert, a geophysicist and head of Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Education.
Cell phone towers emit radio waves that are diminished by moisture in the air. Using real data measurements collected from cellphone towers, the researchers showed that microwave links in a cellular network correlated with surface station humidity measurements. They measured rainfall distributions and were able to give an accurate estimate of the size of impending floods before they struck.
This was demonstrated in post-analysis of two case-studies of floods in the Judean Desert in Israel, where cell phone towers — and flash floods — are abundant.
“Accurate predictions of flooding were difficult before because there haven’t been enough reliable measurements of moisture fields in remote locations,” said Professor Alpert.
Because hundreds of thousands of cell phone towers are already in place, the Tel Aviv University technique can be adopted quickly, say the researchers.
The research is presented in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.