Multipath propagation of low-frequency radio waves inferred from high-resolution array analysis

Martin Füllekrug, Nathan Smith, Andrew Mezentsev, Robert Watson, Ivan Astin, Stéphane Gaffet, Adrian Evans, Michael Rycroft

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The low‐frequency radio sky shows the locations of electromagnetic radio sources with a characteristic dilution of precision. Here we report a thorough high‐resolution analysis of radio waves from low‐frequency (∼20–150 kHz) radio communication transmitters which are recorded with a small aperture array of radio receivers during the day. It is found that the observed dilution of precision results from the array geometry of the radio receivers, a birefringent wave propagation, and the correlated multipath propagation of low‐frequency radio waves. The influence of the array geometry on the dilution of precision is reduced by taking into account the impulse response of the array. This procedure reveals for the very first time the splitting of one single radio source into two distinct source locations separated by ∼0.2°–1.9° which result from a birefringent wave propagation. The two locations are yet more clearly identified by using the polarity of the modulated wave number vectors of the radio waves. This polarity is also used to quantify the dilution of precision arising from correlated multipath propagation which is discriminated against wave number fluctuations arising from the timing accuracy of the radio receivers. It is found that ∼69% of the wave number variability is of natural origin and ∼31% originates from the timing accuracy of the receivers. The wave number variability from correlated multipath propagation results in a standard deviation ∼2–8% relative to the source location. This compact measurement of correlated multipath propagation is used to characterize the uncertainty of source locations in the radio sky. The identification of correlated multipath propagation strongly suggests the existence of very fast processes acting on time scales <1 ms in the D region ionosphere with physically meaningful effects on low‐frequency radio wave propagation. This important result has implications for practical applications in that the observed multipath propagation enables the determination of natural limits for the accuracy of navigation and lightning location methods using low‐frequency radio waves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1141-1149
Number of pages9
JournalRadio Science
Issue number11
Early online date2 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


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