Thursday, June 4, 2009

More on seismic verification of nuclear tests

Science & Technology Review, a publication of Lawrence Livermore Labs, coincidentally has an article on seismic verification of nuclear testing in its latest edition, although not late enough to mention the latest nuclear test of North Korea. So the North Korea tests referred to are from 2006, not last month.

Part II of my cribbed comments focus on the Walter diagram for discriminating earthquakes from nuclear tests:

Various kinds of seismic events can be grouped on a source-type, or Hudson, plot based on their ground motion. A perfectly symmetric underground explosion would appear at the apex of the plot. By analyzing the seismic waves produced by the disturbance that rocked the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah in August 2007, Laboratory seismologists determined that the event was an implosive tunnel collapse, not the sideways slippage of an earthquake.

"Distinguishing an earthquake from a nuclear event requires a close examination of the seismic waves. Such waves fall into two major categories: surface waves, which move along Earth’s surface, and body waves, which move through Earth and bounce off structures inside. Body waves may be primary (P) or secondary (S). Seismic P waves are compressional waves, similar to sound waves in the air. S waves are shear, or transverse, waves, similar to those that propagate along a rope when one end is shaken. Underground explosions radiate P waves in a relatively symmetric spherical shape. Earthquakes, which result from plates sliding along a buried fault, strongly excite the transverse motions of S waves, producing a distinct radiation pattern. Explosions thus show strong P waves and weak S waves. Earthquakes, in contrast, typically show weak P waves and strong S waves.

"But this information alone is not foolproof because the structure of Earth imparts an imprint on the signal. One way to quantify the difference between these seismic disturbances is to determine the ratio of P-wave to S-wave energy measured from the seismograms. Explosions should have higher P:S ratios than earthquakes.

"Recent Livermore work led by Walter sought to clarify the characteristics of the P:S ratios that distinguish nuclear weapons tests from other tectonic activity. By examining regional amplitude ratios of ground motion in a variety of frequencies, his team empirically demonstrated that such ratios indeed separate explosions from earthquakes. The researchers used closely located pairs of earthquakes and nuclear explosions recorded at monitoring stations at or near the Nevada Test Site; Novaya Zemlya and Semipalatinsk, former Soviet Union test sites; Lop Nor, China; India; Pakistan; and the North Korea test.

" 'At high frequencies, above 6 hertz, the P:S ratio method appears to work everywhere we looked,” says Walter. 'Explosions have larger P:S amplitude values.' For example, a test in India on May 11, 1998, compares well with the October 9, 2006, North Korea test.

"However, west of Pakistan, in the tectonically complex Middle East, seismogram analysis becomes more complicated. S waves attenuate, or lose energy, more rapidly in regions that are geologically complicated and seismically active. Seismograms from these areas tend to have larger P-wave amplitude relative to their S-wave amplitude. As a result, earthquake signals may look like those from an explosion. Because of these wave propagation effects, Walter’s team applied a tomographic technique to measure the highly variable attenuation of S waves in the Middle East.

"Tomography is a mathematical operation that uses variations in the waves passing through a material to construct an image of the material’s structure. For example, a medical tomography scan uses variations in the waves of x radiation transmitted through the body to produce an image that a radiologist can analyze. Tomography of Earth uses seismic waves to generate comparable images of Earth’s inner structure.

"The tomographic technique developed by Walter’s team models structural deformation based on the attenuation occurring as S waves propagate through different geologic media. Even with the precise algorithms in this tomographic attenuation method, however, some known earthquakes have P:S ratios that look like those of explosions. 'We expect that analysis of ground motion at higher frequencies will help us better understand and use this method,' says Walter. 'But we have only recently had the computational power we need to model high frequencies in 2D and 3D Earth models.' "

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Is there any way you'd consider sharing a higher-resolution version of that figure (say, big enough for a PowerPoint) with me? I'd like to use if for educational purposes (specifically in explaining the foundations of beachball diagrams). Thanks!


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