Regular reports of my grabber activity and that of others, plus information on QRSS software, hardware and technique that comes my way

Friday, September 21, 2012

Plotting Signal Strengths with Spectrum Lab

Spectrum Lab has a feature which allows one to bracket a signal on the waterfall display and watch its signal strength as a strip chart recording.  This feature is called "Watch List & Plot Window" and is found in the "View/Windows" menu at the top of the display.  Here's the set-up screen:

Set-up screen for SpectrumLab signal plotter.

It's a bit tedious to learn to use and involves a set of commands, functions and expressions reminiscent of BASIC which allow a signal on the waterfall display to be selected and plotted.  But the good news is that only a few instructions are necessary for making a simple strip chart recorder.  I use two expressions:  noise_n(f1,f2) which plots the band noise in the range between f1 and f2 which are two audio frequencies on the WF display and peak_a(f1,f2) which yields the peak signal between two frequencies.  Up to 6 signals may be selected and plotted at the same time.

The noise_n function divides the range between the two specified frequencies into 256 bins and averages the 1/4 lowest values to obtain the band noise.  The likelihood of including actual signals in this average is very low unless there is broadband interference present such as from RTTY or JT65.

The peak_a(f1,f2) expression brackets the signal of interest, divides it into 256 bins and selects the largest value to plot.  This makes a varying QRSS fskcw signal appear as a continuous line since the mark and space are always within the brackets.  Wolf thinks of everything.

OK, so why the interest in plotting signal strength?  One reason would be to watch for changes in your signal while doing some antenna comparisons, for example.  Another and the one in which I'm interested is to study QSB.  There are three causes of QSB:  multipath interference, Faraday rotation and ionospheric focusing.  In multipath the signal is reflected from two or more layers and arrives at the rx antenna to interfere destructively and constructively.  In Faraday rotation the polarization of a linear transmitted wave rotates as it passes thru the Earth's magnetic field and arrives at the polarized rx antenna at a state other than of the tx antenna, ie a vertically polarized transmitted wave can arrive at the rx as another polarization, including eliptical.  Focusing is cause by the shape of the ionosphere which can vary from convex to concave.

Scientist and engineers who study propagation have utilized simultaneous recordings of the vertical and horizontal vectors to detect the Faraday effect and the qualitative nature of the overall variations to separate the three effects.  It ain't easy and requires sophisticated computing capability and understanding of propagation, definitely a job for professionals.  However, that doesn't keep we amateurs from having fun with the subject, making our own observations and attempting to guess which effects are occurring.

My favorite reference on QSB is the dissertation of Dr. Yau at the University of Adelaide who studied the effect on OTHR signals in the 6 to 10 MHz range.  There's a good discussion of hf propagation there plus a details of the receiving apparatus and computational techniques.  Imagine getting a PhD in QSB!

Here's an example of QSB recordings I've made on some 30m signals:

Example of strip chart recording

The Red trace is the band noise, Yellow is KD4PBJ near Chattanooga, TN and Green is AK4T near Atlanta, GA.  

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