very long radio waves – mammoth // building nothing out of something

very long radio waves

Image via Panoramio user subdefective.]

VLF Transmitter Cutler is a “very-low frequency” radio station on the north-eastern edge of Maine’s seacoast operated by the US Navy, primarily for the purpose of communicating with submarines.

The perfectly geometric arrangements of antennas and support cables both recall the hexagonal logic of cellphone towers and suggest some kind of weird radio-wave sublime, a technological landscape that could easily — in the imagination of the lonely boater following the coastline north towards Nova Scotia — be read as the quivering inverse of the National Radio Quiet Zone, as permeated by radio waves as that zone is empty. (Someone should send Simon Norfolk out to both to do a positive/negative-themed follow-up to his Ascension Island series.)

[Diagrams of VLF Transmitter Cutler, via Wikipedia.]

While very-low frequency radio waves can be used to communicate with vessels that are relatively close to the surface of the ocean, as the waves generated by VLF Transmitter Cutler are, radio waves with even longer wavelengths (and lower frequencies) called “extremely-low frequency” radio waves were once thought to be the future of communication with deeply-submerged submarines.

[Clam Lake ELF, via wikipedia.]

[Geologic map of the Canadian shield, via wikipedia.]

Early in his first term, President Reagan approved the construction of two ELF transmission stations, which operated from 1989 to 2004 and stretched a combined eighty-four miles of antennae through remote forests near the Wisconsin-Michigan border. As incredibly long as those antennas are, though, the Clam Lake and Republic Navy Radio Transmitters were significantly scaled-down versions of the Navy’s original proposal, “Project Sanguine”, which would have stretched six thousand miles of antenna through the Laurentian Plateau (a vast geological shield of igneous rock beneath much of the northern United States and Canada, which happens to be perfectly suited to spreading extremely-low frequency radio waves) in a massive grid, transforming an astonishing forty percent of the state’s bedrock into a massive radio transmitter. Wisconsin herself, singing submariners to sleep.

[VLF Transmitter Cutler seen at the wonderfully-matter-of-fact but unfortunately defunct geo-blog Manufactured Landscapes, which I could spend days browsing.]

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