Very low frequency

Last updated
Very low frequency
Frequency range
3 to 30 kHz
Wavelength range
100 to 10 km
A VLF receiving antenna at Palmer Station, Antarctica, operated by Stanford University. VLFatPalmer.JPG
A VLF receiving antenna at Palmer Station, Antarctica, operated by Stanford University.

Very low frequency or VLF is the ITU designation [1] for radio frequencies (RF) in the range of 3 to 30  kilohertz (kHz), corresponding to wavelengths from 100 to 10 kilometers, respectively. The band is also known as the myriameter band or myriameter wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten myriameters (an obsolete metric unit equal to 10 kilometers). Due to its limited bandwidth, audio (voice) transmission is highly impractical in this band, and therefore only low data rate coded signals are used. The VLF band is used for a few radio navigation services, government time radio stations (broadcasting time signals to set radio clocks) and for secure military communication. Since VLF waves can penetrate at least 40 meters (120 ft) into saltwater, they are used for military communication with submarines.

Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second to around three hundred billion times per second. This is roughly between the upper limit of audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range.

Wavelength spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the waves shape repeats, and thus the inverse of the spatial frequency

In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase on the wave, such as two adjacent crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. The inverse of the wavelength is called the spatial frequency. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.

Bandwidth (signal processing) difference between the upper and lower frequencies passed by a filter, communication channel, or signal spectrum

Bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous band of frequencies. It is typically measured in hertz, and depending on context, may specifically refer to passband bandwidth or baseband bandwidth. Passband bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies of, for example, a band-pass filter, a communication channel, or a signal spectrum. Baseband bandwidth applies to a low-pass filter or baseband signal; the bandwidth is equal to its upper cutoff frequency.


Propagation characteristics

Because of their large wavelengths, VLF radio waves can diffract around large obstacles and so are not blocked by mountain ranges or the horizon, and can propagate as ground waves following the curvature of the Earth. The main mode of long distance propagation is an Earth-ionosphere waveguide mechanism. [2] The Earth is surrounded by a conductive layer of electrons and ions in the upper atmosphere at the bottom of the ionosphere called the D layer at 60 to 90 km (37 to 56 miles) altitude, [3] which reflects VLF radio waves. The conductive ionosphere and the conductive Earth form a horizontal "duct" a few VLF wavelengths high, which acts as a waveguide confining the waves so they don't escape into space. The waves travel in a zigzag path around the Earth, reflected alternately by the Earth and the ionosphere, in TM (transverse magnetic) mode.

Diffraction refers to various phenomena that occur when a wave encounters an obstacle or a slit

Diffraction refers to various phenomena that occur when a wave encounters an obstacle or a slit. It is defined as the bending of waves around the corners of an obstacle or through an aperture into the region of geometrical shadow of the obstacle/aperture. The diffracting object or aperture effectively becomes a secondary source of the propagating wave. Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi coined the word "diffraction" and was the first to record accurate observations of the phenomenon in 1660.

Electron subatomic particle with negative electric charge

The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol
, whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because they have no known components or substructure. The electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton. Quantum mechanical properties of the electron include an intrinsic angular momentum (spin) of a half-integer value, expressed in units of the reduced Planck constant, ħ. Being fermions, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle. Like all elementary particles, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves: they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light. The wave properties of electrons are easier to observe with experiments than those of other particles like neutrons and protons because electrons have a lower mass and hence a longer de Broglie wavelength for a given energy.

An ion is an atom or molecule that has a net electrical charge. Since the charge of the electron is equal and opposite to that of the proton, the net charge of an ion is non-zero due to its total number of electrons being unequal to its total number of protons. A cation is a positively charged ion, with fewer electrons than protons, while an anion is negatively charged, with more electrons than protons. Because of their opposite electric charges, cations and anions attract each other and readily form ionic compounds.

VLF waves have very low path attenuation, 2-3 dB per 1000 km, [2] with little of the "fading" experienced at higher frequencies, [3] This is because VLF waves are reflected from the bottom of the ionosphere, while higher frequency shortwave signals are returned to Earth from higher layers in the ionosphere, the F1 and F2 layers, by a refraction process, and spend most of their journey in the ionosphere, so they are much more affected by ionization gradients and turbulence. Therefore, VLF transmissions are very stable and reliable, and are used for long distance communication. Propagation distances of 5000 to 20000 km have been realized. [2] However, atmospheric noise (sferics) is high in the band, [3] including such phenomena as "whistlers", caused by lightning.


In wireless communications, fading is variation of the attenuation of a signal with various variables. These variables include time, geographical position, and radio frequency. Fading is often modeled as a random process. A fading channel is a communication channel that experiences fading. In wireless systems, fading may either be due to multipath propagation, referred to as multipath-induced fading, weather, or shadowing from obstacles affecting the wave propagation, sometimes referred to as shadow fading.

Whistler (radio) very low frequency radio phenomenon caused by lightning

A whistler is a very low frequency or VLF electromagnetic (radio) wave generated by lightning. Frequencies of terrestrial whistlers are 1 kHz to 30 kHz, with a maximum amplitude usually at 3 kHz to 5 kHz. Although they are electromagnetic waves, they occur at audio frequencies, and can be converted to audio using a suitable receiver. They are produced by lightning strikes where the impulse travels along the Earth's magnetic field lines from one hemisphere to the other. They undergo dispersion of several kHz due to the slower velocity of the lower frequencies through the plasma environments of the ionosphere and magnetosphere. Thus they are perceived as a descending tone which can last for a few seconds. The study of whistlers categorizes them into Pure Note, Diffuse, 2-Hop, and Echo Train types.

Lightning Atmospheric discharge of electricity

Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge during which two electrically charged regions in the atmosphere or ground temporarily equalize themselves, causing the instantaneous release of as much as one billion joules of energy. This discharge may produce a wide range of electromagnetic radiation, from very hot plasma created by the rapid movement of electrons to brilliant flashes of visible light in the form of black-body radiation. Lightning causes thunder, a sound from the shock wave which develops as gases in the vicinity of the discharge experience a sudden increase in pressure. Lightning occurs commonly during thunderstorms and other types of energetic weather systems.

VLF waves can penetrate seawater to a depth of at least 10 to 40 meters (30 to 130 feet), depending on the frequency employed and the salinity of the water, so they are used to communicate with submarines.

Seawater Water from a sea or ocean

Seawater, or salt water, is water from a sea or ocean. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5%. This means that every kilogram of seawater has approximately 35 grams (1.2 oz) of dissolved salts. Average density at the surface is 1.025 kg/L. Seawater is denser than both fresh water and pure water because the dissolved salts increase the mass by a larger proportion than the volume. The freezing point of seawater decreases as salt concentration increases. At typical salinity, it freezes at about −2 °C (28 °F). The coldest seawater ever recorded was in 2010, in a stream under an Antarctic glacier, and measured −2.6 °C (27.3 °F). Seawater pH is typically limited to a range between 7.5 and 8.4. However, there is no universally accepted reference pH-scale for seawater and the difference between measurements based on different reference scales may be up to 0.14 units.

VLF waves at certain frequencies have been found to cause electron precipitation.

Electron precipitation is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs when previously trapped electrons enter the Earth's atmosphere, thus creating communications interferences and other disturbances. Electrons are trapped in the Van Allen radiation belt by Earth's magnetic fields and begin to spiral around field lines in the radiation belt. They may remain there for an indefinite period of time. When broadband very low frequency (VLF) waves propagate the radiation belts, the electrons exit the radiation belt and "precipitate" into the ionosphere where the electrons will collide with ions. Electron precipitation is regularly linked to ozone depletion. It is often caused by lightning strikes.

VLF waves used to communicate with submarines have created an artificial bubble around the Earth that can protect it from solar flares and coronal mass ejections; this occurred through interaction with high-energy radiation particles. [4]

Solar flare a sudden flash of increased brightness on the Sun, usually observed near its surface and in close proximity to a sunspot group.

A solar flare is a sudden flash of increased brightness on the Sun, usually observed near its surface and in close proximity to a sunspot group. Powerful flares are often, but not always, accompanied by a coronal mass ejection. Even the most powerful flares are barely detectable in the total solar irradiance.

Coronal mass ejection Significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona

A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a significant release of plasma and accompanying magnetic field from the solar corona. They often follow solar flares and are normally present during a solar prominence eruption. The plasma is released into the solar wind, and can be observed in coronagraph imagery.


Cutler VLF antenna array.png
"Trideco" antenna tower array at the US Navy's Naval Radio Station Cutler in Cutler, Maine, USA. The central mast is the radiating element, while the star-shaped horizontal wire array is the capacitive top load. About 1.2 miles in diameter, it communicates with submerged submarines at 24 kHz at a power of 1.8 megawatts, the most powerful radio station in the world.
Jim Creek VLF antenna.png
Another type of large VLF antenna: the "valley-span" antenna, consisting of multiple horizontal topload cables spanning a valley, fed in the center by vertical radiators. This example is at the US Navy Jim Creek station near Seattle, which transmits on 24.8 kHz at a power of 1.2 MW.
Tsushima Omega Tower 1977 2.jpg
Umbrella antenna of the Omega navigation system beacon on Tsushima Island, Japan, which transmitted at 10 - 14 kHz. 389 meters high, it was dismantled in 1977.

A major practical drawback to this band is that because of the length of the waves, full size resonant antennas (half wave dipole or quarter wave monopole antennas) cannot be built because of their physical height. Vertical antennas must be used because VLF waves propagate in vertical polarization, but a quarter-wave vertical antenna at 30 kHz would be 2.5 kilometres (8,200 feet) high. So practical transmitting antennas are electrically short, a small fraction of a wavelength long. [5] Due to their low radiation resistance (often less than one ohm) they are inefficient, radiating only 10% to 50% of the transmitter power at most, [2] with the rest of the power dissipated in the antenna/ground system resistances. Very high power transmitters (~1 megawatt) are required for long distance communication, so the efficiency of the antenna is an important factor.

High power transmitting antennas for VLF frequencies are very large wire antennas, up to a mile across. They consist of a series of steel radio masts, linked at the top with a network of cables, often shaped like an umbrella or clotheslines. Either the towers themselves or vertical wires serve as monopole radiators, and the horizontal cables form a capacitive top-load to increase the efficiency of the antenna. High power stations use variations on the umbrella antenna such as the "delta" and "trideco" antennas, or multiwire flattop (triatic) antennas. For low power transmitters, inverted-L and T antennas are used. A large loading coil is required at the antenna feed point to cancel the capacitive reactance of the antenna to make it resonant.

Due to the low radiation resistance, to minimize power dissipated in the ground these antennas require extremely low resistance ground (Earthing) systems. Because of soil resistance and dielectric losses in the ground, the buried cable ground systems used by higher frequency transmitters tend to have unacceptably high losses, and counterpoise systems are usually used, consisting of radial networks of copper cables supported several feet above the ground under the antenna, extending out radially from the mast or vertical element.

The high capacitance and inductance and low resistance of the antenna-loading coil combination makes it act electrically like a high Q tuned circuit. VLF antennas have very narrow bandwidth and to change the transmitting frequency requires a variable inductor (variometer) to tune the antenna. The large VLF antennas used for high power transmitters usually have bandwidths of only a few tens of hertz, and when transmitting frequency shift keying (FSK), the usual mode, the resonant frequency of the antenna must sometimes be dynamically shifted with the modulation, between the two FSK frequencies. The high Q of the antenna results in very high voltages at the ends of the horizontal topload wires where the nodes of the standing wave pattern occur, and very good insulation is required. The practical limit to the power of large VLF transmitters is usually determined by onset of air breakdown and arcing from the antenna.

The requirements for receiving antennas are less stringent, because of the high level of natural atmospheric noise in the band. Atmospheric radio noise is far above the receiver noise introduced by the receiver circuit and determines the receiver signal to noise ratio. So small inefficient receiving antennas can be used, and the low voltage signal from the antenna can simply be amplified by the receiver without introducing significant noise. Loop antennas are usually used for reception.


Flattop antenna towers of the Grimeton VLF transmitter, Varberg, Sweden Grimetonmasterna.jpg
Flattop antenna towers of the Grimeton VLF transmitter, Varberg, Sweden

The frequency range below 9 kHz is not allocated by the International Telecommunication Union and may be used in some nations license-free.

Since it can penetrate seawater VLF is used by the military to communicate with submarines near the surface, while ELF frequencies are used for deeply submerged vessels. Examples of naval VLF transmitters are Britain's Skelton Transmitting Station in Skelton, Cumbria; Germany's DHO38 in Rhauderfehn, which transmits on 23.4 kHz with a power of 800 kW, the US Jim Creek Naval Radio Station in Oso, Washington state, which transmits on 24.8 kHz with a power of 1.2 MW; and Cutler Naval Radio Station at Cutler, Maine which transmits on 24 kHz with 1.8 MW. Due to the narrow bandwidth of the band, audio (voice) transmission cannot be used, and text transmission is limited to a slow data rate of around 300 bits per second, or about 35 eight-bit ASCII characters per second. Since 2004 the US Navy has stopped using ELF transmissions, with the statement that improvements in VLF communication has made them unnecessary, so it may have developed technology to allow submarines to receive VLF transmissions while at operating depth.

Due to its long propagation distances and stable phase characteristics, during the 20th century the VLF band was used for long range hyperbolic radio navigation systems which allowed ships and aircraft to determine their geographical position by comparing the phase of radio waves received from fixed VLF navigation beacon transmitters. The worldwide Omega system used frequencies from 10 to 14 kHz, as did Russia's Alpha. VLF was also used for standard time and frequency broadcasts. In the USA, the time signal station WWVL began transmitting a 500 W signal on 20 kHz in August 1963. It used frequency shift keying (FSK) to send data, shifting between 20 kHz and 26 kHz. The WWVL service was discontinued in July 1972.

Historically, this band was used for long distance transoceanic radio communication during the wireless telegraphy era between about 1905 and 1925. Nations built networks of high power LF and VLF radiotelegraphy stations that transmitted text information by Morse code, to communicate with other countries, their colonies and naval fleets. Early attempts were made to use radiotelephone using amplitude modulation and single-sideband modulation within the band starting from 20 kHz, but the result was unsatisfactory because the available bandwidth was insufficient to contain the sidebands. In the 1920s the discovery of the skywave (skip) radio propagation method allowed lower power transmitters operating at high frequency to communicate at similar distances by reflecting their radio waves off a layer of ionized atoms in the ionosphere, and long distance radio communication stations switched to the shortwave frequencies. The Grimeton VLF transmitter at Grimeton near Varberg in Sweden, one of the few remaining transmitters from that era that has been preserved as a historical monument, can be visited by the public at certain times, such as on Alexanderson Day.

Naturally occurring signals in the VLF band are used by geophysicists for long range lightning location and for research into atmospheric phenomena such as the aurora. Measurements of whistlers are employed to infer the physical properties of the magnetosphere. [6]

VLF can also penetrate soil and rock for some distance, so these frequencies are also used for through-the-earth mine communications systems. Geophysicists use VLF-electromagnetic receivers to measure conductivity in the near surface of the Earth. [7]

VLF submarine and aircraft communication methods

High power land-based and aircraft transmitters in countries that operate submarines send signals that can be received thousands of miles away. Transmitter sites typically cover great areas (many acres or square kilometers), with transmitted power anywhere from 20 kW to 2 MW. Submarines receive signals from land based and aircraft transmitters using some form of towed antenna that floats just under the surface of the water – for example a BCAA (Buoyant Cable Array Antenna). Modern receivers use sophisticated digital signal processing techniques to remove the effects of atmospheric noise (largely caused by lightning strikes around the world) and adjacent channel signals, extending the useful reception range. Strategic nuclear bombers of the United States Air Force receive VLF signals as part of hardened nuclear resilient operations.

Because of the low bandwidth available it is not possible to transmit audio signals, therefore all messaging is done with text data at very low bit rates. Three types of modulation are used:[ citation needed ]

Two alternative character sets may be used: 5-bit ITA2 or 8-bit ASCII. Because these are military transmissions they are almost always encrypted for security reasons. Although it is relatively easy to receive the transmissions and convert them into a string of characters, enemies cannot decode the encrypted messages; military communications usually use unbreakable one-time pad ciphers since the amount of text is so small.

Amateur use

Radio amateurs in some countries have been granted permission (or have assumed permission) to operate at frequencies below 8.3 kHz. [8]

Radiated power from amateur stations is very small, ranging from 1 μW to 100 μW for fixed base station antennas, and up to 10 mW from kite or balloon antennas. Despite the low power, stable propagation with low attenuation in the earth-ionosphere cavity enable very narrow bandwidths to be used to reach distances up to several thousand km. The modes used are QRSS, MFSK, and coherent BPSK.

Operations tend to congregate around the frequencies 8.27 kHz, 6.47 kHz, 5.17 kHz and 2.97 kHz. [9] Bandwidths of a few tens of uHz are typical and both receiver and transmitter must have their frequency locked to a stable reference such as a GPS disciplined oscillator or a rubidium standard.

The transmitter generally consists of an audio amplifier of a few hundred watts, an impedance matching transformer, a loading coil and a large wire antenna. Receivers employ an electric field probe or magnetic loop antenna, a sensitive audio preamplifier, isolating transformers, and a PC sound card to digitise the signal. Extensive digital signal processing is required to retrieve the weak signals from beneath interference from power line harmonics and VLF radio atmospherics. Useful received signal strengths are as low as 3×10−8 volts/meter (electric field) and 1×10−16 tesla (magnetic field), with signaling rates typically between 1 and 100 bits per hour.

Spectrogram of an 18.1 kHz VLF signal, picked up using a small loop antenna and a sound card. The vertical stripes are distant lightnings. VLF 18.1 kHz spectrogram.svg
Spectrogram of an 18.1 kHz VLF signal, picked up using a small loop antenna and a sound card. The vertical stripes are distant lightnings.

VLF signals are often monitored by radio amateurs using simple homemade VLF radio receivers based on personal computers (PCs). [10] [11] An aerial in the form of a coil of insulated wire is connected to the input of the soundcard of the PC (via a jack plug) and placed a few meters away from it. Fast Fourier transform (FFT) software in combination with a sound card allows reception of all frequencies below the Nyquist frequency simultaneously in the form of spectrogrammes. Because CRT monitors are strong sources of noise in the VLF range, it is recommended to record the spectrograms with any PC CRT monitors turned off. These spectrograms show many signals, which may include VLF transmitters and the horizontal electron beam deflection of TV sets. The strength of the signal received can vary with a sudden ionospheric disturbance. These cause the ionization level to increase in the ionosphere producing a rapid change to the amplitude and phase of the received VLF signal.

List of VLF transmissions

For a more detailed list, see List of VLF-transmitters

CallsignFrequencyLocation of transmitterRemarks
-11.905 kHzRussia (various locations) Alpha-Navigation
-12.649 kHzRussia (various locations) Alpha-Navigation
-14.881 kHzRussia (various locations) Alpha-Navigation
HWU 15.1 kHzRosnay, France400 kW.
-15.625 kHz-Frequency for horizontal deflection of electron beam in CRT televisions (576i)
-15.734 kHz-Frequency for horizontal deflection of electron beam in CRT televisions (480i)
JXN 16.4 kHz Gildeskål (Norway)
SAQ 17.2 kHz Grimeton (Sweden)Only active at special occasions (Alexanderson Day)
-ca. 17.5 kHz?Twenty second pulses
NAA 17.8 kHzVLF station (NAA) at Cutler, Maine
RDL/UPD/UFQE/UPP/UPD818.1 kHzRussia (various locations including Matotchkinchar, Russia)
HWU 18.3 kHzLe Blanc (France)Frequently inactive for longer periods
RKS18.9 kHzRussia (various locations)Rarely active
GQD 19.6 kHz Anthorn (Britain)Many operation modes.
NWC 19.8 kHzExmouth, Western Australia (AUS)Used for submarine communication, 1 Megawatt. [12]
ICV20.27 kHz Tavolara (Italy)
RJH63, RJH66, RJH69, RJH77, RJH9920.5 kHzRussia (various locations) Time signal transmitter Beta
ICV20.76 kHzTavolara (Italy)
HWU 20.9 kHzSaint-Assise, France
RDL21.1 kHzRussia (various locations)rarely active
NPM 21.4 kHzHawaii (USA)
HWU 21.75 kHzRosnay, France
GZQ 22.1 kHz Skelton (Britain)
JJI 22.2 kHzEbino (Japan)
?22.3 kHzRussia?Only active on 2nd of each month for a short period between 11:00 and 13:00 (respectively 10:00 and 12:00 in winter), if 2nd of each month is not a Sunday
RJH63, RJH66, RJH69, RJH77, RJH9923 kHzRussia (various locations)Time signal transmitter Beta
DHO38 23.4 kHznear Rhauderfehn (Germany)submarine communication
NAA 24 kHzCutler, Maine (USA)Used for submarine communication, at 2 megawatts.
NLK 24.6 kHzSeattle, Washington (USA)192 kW.
NLF24.8 kHzArlington, Washington (USA)Used for submarine communication.
NML25.2 kHzLaMour, North Dakota (USA)
PNSH 14–25.2? kHz Karachi coast, Sindh (Pakistan)

See also

Related Research Articles

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Shortwave radio is radio transmission using shortwave radio frequencies. There is no official definition of the band, but the range always includes all of the high frequency band (HF), and generally extends from 3–30 MHz ; above the medium frequency band (MF), to the end of the HF band.

Transmitter Electronic device that emits radio waves

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Medium wave Part of the medium frequency radio band

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Low frequency or LF is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range of 30 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 kHz. As its wavelengths range from ten kilometres to one kilometre, respectively, it is also known as the kilometre band or kilometre wave.

Medium frequency The range 300-3000 kHz of the electromagnetic spectrum

Medium frequency (MF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range of 300 kilohertz (kHz) to 3 megahertz (MHz). Part of this band is the medium wave (MW) AM broadcast band. The MF band is also known as the hectometer band as the wavelengths range from ten to one hectometer. Frequencies immediately below MF are denoted low frequency (LF), while the first band of higher frequencies is known as high frequency (HF). MF is mostly used for AM radio broadcasting, navigational radio beacons, maritime ship-to-shore communication, and transoceanic air traffic control.

Longwave radio broadcast band

In radio, longwave, long wave or long-wave, and commonly abbreviated LW, refers to parts of the radio spectrum with wavelengths longer than what was originally called the medium-wave broadcasting band. The term is historic, dating from the early 20th century, when the radio spectrum was considered to consist of longwave (LW), medium-wave (MW), and short-wave (SW) radio bands. Most modern radio systems and devices use wavelengths which would then have been considered 'ultra-short'.

High frequency The range 3-30 MHz of the electromagnetic spectrum

High frequency (HF) is the ITU designation for the range of radio frequency electromagnetic waves between 3 to 30 megahertz (MHz). It is also known as the decameter band or decameter wave as its wavelengths range from one to ten decameters. Frequencies immediately below HF are denoted medium frequency (MF), while the next band of higher frequencies is known as the very high frequency (VHF) band. The HF band is a major part of the shortwave band of frequencies, so communication at these frequencies is often called shortwave radio. Because radio waves in this band can be reflected back to Earth by the ionosphere layer in the atmosphere – a method known as "skip" or "skywave" propagation – these frequencies are suitable for long-distance communication across intercontinental distances and for mountainous terrains which prevent line-of-sight communications. The band is used by international shortwave broadcasting stations (2.31–25.82 MHz), aviation communication, government time stations, weather stations, amateur radio and citizens band services, among other uses.

Radio propagation behavior of radio waves as they travel, or are propagated, from one point to another, or into various parts of the atmosphere

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Extremely low frequency The range 3-30 Hz of the electromagnetic spectrum

Extremely low frequency (ELF) is the ITU designation for electromagnetic radiation with frequencies from 3 to 30 Hz, and corresponding wavelengths of 100,000 to 10,000 kilometers, respectively. In atmospheric science, an alternative definition is usually given, from 3 Hz to 3 kHz. In the related magnetosphere science, the lower frequency electromagnetic oscillations are considered to lie in the ULF range, which is thus also defined differently from the ITU radio bands.

Super low frequency (SLF) is the ITU designation for electromagnetic waves in the frequency range between 30 hertz and 300 hertz. They have corresponding wavelengths of 10,000 to 1,000 kilometers. This frequency range includes the frequencies of AC power grids. Another conflicting designation which includes this frequency range is Extremely Low Frequency (ELF), which in some contexts refers to all frequencies up to 300 hertz.

Communication with submarines is a field within military communications that presents technical challenges and requires specialized technology. Because radio waves do not travel well through good electrical conductors like salt water, submerged submarines are cut off from radio communication with their command authorities at ordinary radio frequencies. Submarines can surface and raise an antenna above the sea level, then use ordinary radio transmissions, however this makes them vulnerable to detection by anti-submarine warfare forces. Early submarines during World War 2 mostly traveled on the surface because of their limited underwater speed and endurance; they dived mainly to evade immediate threats. During the Cold War, however, nuclear-powered submarines were developed that could stay submerged for months. Transmitting messages to these submarines is an active area of research. Very low frequency (VLF) radio waves can penetrate seawater a few hundred feet, and many navies use powerful VLF transmitters for submarine communications. A few nations have built transmitters which use extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves, which can penetrate seawater to reach submarines at operating depths, but these require huge antennas.

Grimeton Radio Station working life museum in Varberg Municipality, Sweden

Grimeton Radio Station in southern Sweden, close to Varberg in Halland, is an early longwave transatlantic wireless telegraphy station built in 1922-1924, that has been preserved as a historical site. From the 1920s through the 1940s it was used to transmit telegram traffic by Morse code to North America and other countries, and during World War 2 was Sweden's only telecommunication link with the rest of the world. It is the only remaining example of an early pre-electronic radio transmitter technology called an Alexanderson alternator. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004, with the statement: "Grimeton Radio Station, Varberg is an outstanding monument representing the process of development of communication technology in the period following the First World War." The radio station is also an anchor site for the European Route of Industrial Heritage. The transmitter is still in operational condition, and each year on a day called Alexanderson Day is started up and transmits brief Morse code test transmissions, which can be received all over Europe.

The 80 meter or 3.5 MHz band is a band of radio frequencies allocated for amateur radio use, from 3.5 to 4.0 MHz in IARU Region 2, and generally 3.5 to 3.8 or 3.9 MHz in Regions 1 and 3 respectively. The upper portion of the band, which is usually used for phone (voice), is sometimes referred to as 75 meters. In Europe, 75m is a shortwave broadcast band, with a number of national radio services operating between 3.9 & 4.0 MHz.

Ground dipole

In radio communication, a ground dipole, also referred to as an earth dipole antenna, transmission line antenna, and in technical literature as a horizontal electric dipole (HED), is a huge, specialized type of radio antenna that radiates extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic waves. It is the only type of transmitting antenna that can radiate practical amounts of power in the frequency range of 3 Hz to 3 kHz, commonly called ELF waves A ground dipole consists of two ground electrodes buried in the earth, separated by tens to hundreds of kilometers, linked by overhead transmission lines to a power plant transmitter located between them. Alternating current electricity flows in a giant loop between the electrodes through the ground, radiating ELF waves, so the ground is part of the antenna. To be most effective, ground dipoles must be located over certain types of underground rock formations. The idea was proposed by U.S. Dept. of Defense physicist Nicholas Christofilos in 1959.

Project Sanguine research project for radio communication with submarines

Project Sanguine was a U.S. Navy project, proposed in 1968 for communication with submerged submarines using extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves. The originally proposed system, hardened to survive a nuclear attack, would have required a giant antenna covering two fifths of the state of Wisconsin. Because of protests and potential environmental impact, the proposed system was never implemented. A smaller, less hardened system consisting of two linked ELF transmitters located at Clam Lake, Wisconsin and Republic, Michigan was built beginning in 1982 and operated from 1989 until 2004. The system transmitted at a frequency of 76 Hz. At ELF frequencies the bandwidth of the transmission is very small, so the system could only send short coded text messages at a very low data rate. These signals were used to summon specific vessels to the surface to receive longer operational orders by ordinary radio or satellite communication.

Aguada transmission station is a tall guyed radio mast erected by the US Navy. It is used as a facility of the US Navy for transmitting orders to submerged submarines near Aguada, Puerto Rico at 18°23′55″N67°10′38″W by using radio waves in the very low frequency range.


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Further reading