The City of Satellite Beach, Florida validates low power radar systems in Hightower Beach Park

The City of Satellite Beach, Florida validates low power radar systems in Hightower Beach Park

Satellite Beach administration, as well as that of the Indian River County, has approved a low power radar system to be installed on their public beaches. The radars are small arrays of high-frequency, low-powered radars that will aid in the collection of data. They will be installed on thin poles about 7ft and will have a 60-kilometre range. These radars will improve search-and-rescue efforts, red tide identification, forecasting rip currents, and predicting erosion.

“Long term collection of the data could be used for people who do coastal planning for the county. I can imagine folks doing work in the sea turtle world as well,” said Steven Lazarus, Ocean Engineering and Sciences Professor at Florida Institute of Technology. At Satellite Beach, the radars will be installed at Hightower Beach Park. For the Indian River County, the radar will be constructed at Treasure Shores Park. For clear pictures, two radars are needed, spaced at a 60km range. These radars will play an integral role in tracking oil spills in the ocean, such as the Deepwater Horizon blowout of 2010.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finance this project. It will cost approximately $500,000 and will be carried out in 5 years. It is part of the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). The radar system will help in sensing and tracking red tides, identifying fish spawning patterns, and noting ocean changes. The data collected from the radar uses very little power, about 40watts. This clears the concern that people might have regarding the radar impacting ocean life and people negatively. “That is a fraction of a light bulb,” explained Lazarus. This radar system operates at a 13.5 megahertz frequency, which is lower than most cellphones’ frequencies.

In a letter addressed to the city, Lazarus explained how the radars are installed so that they wouldn’t interfere with beach users’ activities. “The cables are embedded in a conduit with minimal to the dune. The antenna monopoles are approximately 7 feet tall and will require stabilizing cables (guy wire) to reduce movement. The radar electronics can be housed in a small space (30″ ×30″ and 40″ high) such as an air-conditioned storage closet or small trailer,” said Lazarus in the letter dated December 14, 2020.

However, these projects need the Florida Communities Trust’s approval, which is the program that owns the public land. “Anything that goes on the property they have to approve,” said Courtney Barker, the City Manager. The public has questioned the sustainability of this project and whether it is fair for such a project to be put up on a preserved land. There is a petition in court by one of the residents challenging the start of this Hightower project.

In his defense, Lazarus pointed out that the radar systems would be away from the prime sea where turtles dwell. “I wouldn’t get involved in a project if it had any impacts on sea turtles,” said Lazarus in assurance. “This is a minimal disturbance.” Lazarus replaced George Maul in this position. The oceanographer was one of the pioneers who pushed the state and federal governments to create the IOOS. Maul believed a radar system could have prevented the loss of two 14-year olds who vanished into the ocean in 2015. It could also have helped in tracking the Deep-water Horizon Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Maul passed away in 2020, leaving Lazarus to take the mantle.