Assessment of outdoor radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure through hotspot localization using kriging-based sequential sampling

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In this study, a novel methodology is proposed to create heat maps that accurately pinpoint the outdoor locations with elevated exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) in an extensive urban region (or, hotspots), and that would allow local authorities and epidemiologists to efficiently assess the locations and spectral composition of these hotspots, while at the same time developing a global picture of the exposure in the area. Moreover, no prior knowledge about the presence of radiofrequency radiation sources (e.g., base station parameters) is required. After building a surrogate model from the available data using kriging, the proposed method makes use of an iterative sampling strategy that selects new measurement locations at spots which are deemed to contain the most valuable information—inside hotspots or in search of them—based on the prediction uncertainty of the model. The method was tested and validated in an urban subarea of Ghent, Belgium with a size of approximately 1 km2. In total, 600 input and 50 validation measurements were performed using a broadband probe. Five hotspots were discovered and assessed, with maximum total electric-field strengths ranging from 1.3 to 3.1 V/m, satisfying the reference levels issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection for exposure of the general public to RF-EMF. Spectrum analyzer measurements in these hotspots revealed five radiofrequency signals with a relevant contribution to the exposure. The radiofrequency radiation emitted by 900 MHz Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) base stations was always dominant, with contributions ranging from 45% to 100%. Finally, validation of the subsequent surrogate models shows high prediction accuracy, with the final model featuring an average relative error of less than 2 dB (factor 1.26 in electric-field strength), a correlation coefficient of 0.7, and a specificity of 0.96.

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