Inauguration of Kyushu University’s SERC (Space Environment Research Center) Subcenter at Manila Observatory

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

MO-SERC Subcenter logo

MO-SERC Subcenter logo

Last 8 March 2011, Prof. Kiyohumi Yumoto of Kyushu University’s SERC (Space Environment Research Center) and Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J. of Manila Observatory inaugurated the Manila Observatory’s Ionosphere Building as the Kyushu University’s SERC subcenter.  The Subcenter houses two SERC instruments: (1) the FMCW (Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave) radar for studying the ionosphere and (2) computer server with three monitors for viewing solar activity and real-time data from MAGDAS (Magnetic Data Acquisition System) II stations all over the world.  The task of the SERC subcenter is to be the seismoelectromagnetics research hub of the six Philippine MAGDAS stations: Tuguegarao, Muntinlupa, Legazpi, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao.  Seismoelectromagnetics is the branch of physics which studies anomalous electromagnetic precursors to earthquakes.

I. Klima Conference Room

The inauguration started at 3:00 p.m. at the Klima Conference Room of Manila Observatory.  The welcome remarks were made by Director Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga of Manila Observatory.  Prof. Dr. Kiyohumi Yumoto, the Director of SERC, then made his presentation.  He was followed by representatives of Philippine MAGDAS stations:

  1. Dr. Rogelio Matalang of Cagayan State University, Tuguegarao (TGG)
  2. Commodore R. Ho (represented by CPO Alex Algaba) of Coast and Geodetic Survey, NAMRIA, Muntinlupa (MUT)
  3. Dr. Mutya Paulino of Divine Word College of Legazpi (LGZ) (was not able to come)
  4. Dr. Roland Otadoy of University of San Carlos, Cebu (CEB)
  5. Fr. Jett Villarin of Xavier University (represented by Engr. Dexter Lo), Cagayan de Oro (CDO)
  6. Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. of Ionosphere Building, Manila Observatory (MNL)

The closing remarks were made by Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J. of Manila Observatory, the Principal Investigator of the Philippine MAGDAS project, who is also the representative of Manila Observatory-Davao Station (DAV). 

Also present in the ceremony are scientists and staff of Manila Observatory, scientists from SERC, administrators from Kyushu University.  The scientists from SERC are Dr. Akihiro Ikeda who specializes on FMCW radar and Dr.  Shuji Abe who specializes on the MAGDAS network.  The administrators from Kyushu University are Mr. Osamu Kajiwara, Director of Finance and Planning Division, and  Mr. Takashi Nakayama, Assistant Director of Finance and Planning Division.

In his talk Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J. outlined the history of Manila Observatory from the time Padre Federico Faura predicted the first Philippine storms about 150 years ago. Fr. McNamara said that today, the Manila Observatory comes in full circle to where it started: the study of the sun’s influence on weather and climate. Fr. McNamara believes that the weather in the troposphere is affected by the weather in the ionosphere and magnetosphere, which are in turn also directly affected by the solar activity such as solar wind and coronal mass ejections. This is a radical proposal, as radical as Padre Faura’s idea that Philippine storms are similar to those of Indian ocean and in the Americas, as radical as Prof. Kiyuhomi Yumoto’s belief that earthquakes, which are due to lithospheric storms, have magnetic precursors. This is because Manila Observatory, in fidelity to its Jesuit missionary character, has always been into frontier physics: to go where no man dared to go for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of souls.

II. The Road to the SERC Subcenter

After the talks, the group went down through the back door of the Manila Observatory’s Administration building.  This building was designed to align along the East-West direction to minimize the solar heating during sunrise and sunset.  The back door opens to a wide field of grass flanked by mango trees marking the boundary of the Observatory with the Ateneo grade school.  The group followed the footpath leading Southwards to the Solar Building.  This building houses the spectroheliograph which was used before to take images of sunspots–the best images in the world 50 years ago.   But because of poor visibility due to air pollution, the spectroheliograph was redesigned to study air pollution.  The work languished for a decade because of lack of funding.  This summer the Solar Building will be renovated and repainted to its former glory.  Many of the observatory’s research programs will be transferred there from the Main Building to create more space at the main building for student research.

Before the group reached the Solar Building, the group turned East.  The footpath leads to a rectangular brick building and an imposing black sphere.  Tolkien fans may like to have their picture taken beside the black sphere: it looks like the Stone of Erech where Isildur cursed the army of the hills to linger long until his heir (Aragorn) pardons the oathbreakers for not aiding Isildur in his war against Sauron.  Actually, the black sphere used to be a white sphere made of fiber glass, designed to withstand sand, storm, and snow.  Inside the sphere is a rusting telescope-like instrument that somebody said was a radiosonde.  The radiosonde is still mounted on a lofty pedestal, awaiting the dawn of a new day amidst a heap of metal scraps.

The group went to the Ionosphere Building. This building was constructed about 1962.  This is a one story building with a floor area of 22 ft x 33 ft.  The walls are made of a layer of bricks (outside), an inch-thick black fiberglass foam, and 10 inches of pure cement and bricks composite; there are no hollow blocks.  The roof is made of 5-inch thick cement slabs.  The ceiling used to be marine plywood with fiberglass cushion as insulation.  These were removed and replaced with acoustic board with T-runners.  The room with kitchen sink and wash room was a later addition.  This room was painted black before because this was where ionogram films were developed.  Now, the room and the whole building was painted with light cream color.  The wash room was retiled.  And the whole electrical system of the building was rewired.

III. Inauguration of the SERC Subcenter

When Prof. Yumoto and Fr. McNamara, S.J. arrived at the Ionosphere Building, Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr., the SERC Subcenter coordinator, gave them the sign of the SERC Subcenter in plexiglass which contains the logos of the Manila Observatory and SERC.  Prof. Yumoto and Fr. McNamara, S.J. screwed the SERC Subcenter sign in the front door.  Their picture was taken.  Then the rest of the MAGDAS representatives gathered at the door together with Prof. Yumoto and Fr. McNamara, S.J.  to have their picture taken.

Dr. Sugon opened the doors of the SERC subcenter and invited everyone to come in.  The doors opened to a wide room.  Before them is a table with caps and mugs.  The caps are those of Manila Observatory.  The mugs contain the SERC subcenter sign with the MO-SERC logo.  Across the table is another table containing three computer panels showing solar activity and magnetic field plots.  Above them are two posters for the MAGDAS network.

Dr. Shuji Abe described the MAGDAS-CPMN (Magnetic Data Acquisition System-Circumpan Pacific Monitoring Network).  This is a network of more than 50 magnetometers around the world with a magnetometer chain along the 210 degree longitude which goes from Japan to Philippines and Australia.  The other chains are along the equator  and the Europe-Africa longitude.  This magnetometer network is important for determining the effects of solar wind and coronal mass ejections on the earth’s geomagnetic field.  During geomagnetic storms, the ionosphere becomes agitated, resulting to signal loss in intercontinental radio communications and global navigation systems.

The Jesuits of Manila Observatory has been doing magnetic monitoring for more than 100 years primarily to understand the effects of the sun on the geomagnetic field.  Analysis was done by hand and magnetic anomalies were recorded in tables published in the Philippine Weather Bureau’s (Manila Observatory in the American Period) Monthly and Annual reports which can still be found in the Manila Observatory’s Library and Archives.  Now, with SERC’s magnetometer network, Manila Observatory would be able to obtain magnetic data with 1 second resolution with an error of about 0.06 nT.  The earth’s magnetic field, by comparison, is about 30,000-60,000 nT.

Next, Dr. Akihiro Ikeda gave another talk about the FMCW (Frequency  Modulated Continous Wave) Radar.  This radar takes two kinds of data in a 30 minute interval.  The first 28 minutes are for the Doppler measurement of the vertical electron velocities in the ionosphere.  By assuming that the magnetic force balances the electric force on ionospheric charges, and using the predicted value of the magnetic field in the IGRF (International Geomagnetic Reference Field) model, the ionospheric electric field can be computed.  On the other hand, in the next 2 minutes of operation, the radar shifts to the ionosonde mode and sends triangular wave pulses to the ionosphere and waits for the signal to come back.  The total travel time of the wave is divided by two and multiplied with the speed of light in order to determine the virtual height of the ionosphere as a function of radiowave carrier frequency.  From the virtual height vs frequency plot we can determine the how the electrons are distributed in the ionosphere.

After the two talks, the group held their MO-SERC mugs and put on their MO caps for pictorial. It’s their official induction to the SERC subcenter research team. The group then left the building and proceeded to the Manila Observatory’s lobby for snacks.  The whole program ended at exactly 4:30 p.m.

IV. Epilogue

The following day, Dr. Sugon visited Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J. at the Jesuit Infirmary. Dr. Sugon showed Fr. Badillo some pictures of the SERC subcenter inauguration in Manila Observatory’s Facebook page.

“Ang galing, a,” he said. “It’s wonderful!”

Fr. Badillo at 86 is now retired from ionosphere and astronomical work. He was once the Director of Manila Observatory and head of the Upper Atmosphere Division. Now, he spends his days in wheelchair but keeps his mind busy by blogging and praying for more Jesuit vocations.

Kyushu University's SERC Subcenter at Manila Observatory

Kyushu University's SERC Subcenter at Manila Observatory

Prof. Kiyohumi Yumoto of SERC and Fr. Daniel J. Mcnamara, S.J. at the Klima Conference Room, Manila Observatory.

Prof. Kiyohumi Yumoto of SERC and Fr. Daniel J. Mcnamara, S.J. at the Klima Conference Room, Manila Observatory. On the background from left to right: Dr. Roland Otadoy (CEB), Dr. Dr. Akihiro Ikeda (SERC), Dr. Rogelio Matalang (TGG), Deanna Marie Olaguer (MO/Klima), Engr. Alex Algaba (MUN), Dr. Celine Vicente (MO/Geomatics), Director Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga (MO), Clint Bennett (MO/Ateneo Physics), and Dr. Felix Muga (Ateneo Math)

Prof. Kiyuhomi Yumoto of SERC and Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J. installs the sign of the SERC subcenter

Prof. Kiyuhomi Yumoto of SERC and Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J. installs the sign of the SERC subcenter

Inauguration of the SERC Subcenter with the Philippine MAGDAS station representatives

Inauguration of the SERC Subcenter with the Philippine MAGDAS station representatives: From left to right: Engr. Dexter Lo (CDO), Alex Algaba (MUN), Dr. Rogelio Matalang (TGG), Prof. Kiyohumi Yumoto (SERC), Fr. Daniel J. Mcnamara, S.J. (MO and DAV), Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. (MNL), and Dr. Roland Otadoy (CEB)

Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. welcomes everyone to the SERC Subcenter

Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. welcomes everyone to the SERC Subcenter

Inaugurating the SERC Subcenter with caps and mugs

Inaugurating the SERC Subcenter with caps and mugs. From left to right: Nino Uy (MO Instrumentation), Osamu Kajiwara (Kyushu University), Randell Teodoro (MO Seismology), Engr. Dexter Lo (CDO), Takashi Nakayama (Kyushu University), Dr. Shuji Abe (SERC), Dr. Akihiro Ikeda (SERC), Dr. Roland Otadoy (CEB), Alex Algaba (MUN), Prof. Kiyohumi Yumoto (SERC), Dr. Rogelio Matalang (TGG), Clint Bennett (MO/Ateneo Physics), Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. (MO/Ateneo Physics), Dr. Felix Muga (Ateneo Math), and Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, SJ (MO/DAV/Ateneo Physics)


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2 Responses to Inauguration of Kyushu University’s SERC (Space Environment Research Center) Subcenter at Manila Observatory

  1. Mary Edwards says:

    A weather balloon landed in our yard in Tampa, Florida area around 1 P.M. EST. on 4/16/2011. The wording on the paper balloon read: Launched 4/13/2011 10:21P.M. Manila Philippines University Weather Research Agapito

    Please contact me if you know of or can tell me anything about this experiment.
    Thank you.


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