Training for auxiliary seismic station operators

Extreme remoteness, harsh climatic conditions, unreliable power grid, security problems – these are just some of the challenges that our station operators have to fight every day. Their overarching aim is to minimize station downtime in order to meet the stringent data availability criteria – 98% in the case of seismic stations. This type of station is generally built in locations far from populated areas or traffic routes in order to minimize background noise. It is therefore important for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to have well trained station operators who can repair or replace critical components without the need to send support from CTBTO headquarters in Vienna. 

Seismic stations detect shockwaves in the ground – click for animation.

The station operators are our front-line soldiers in detecting nuclear weapon tests. They are absolutely essential in our quest for providing high-quality real-time monitoring data to our Member States.

This was the objective of a week-long training course for auxiliary seismic station operators that ended today. Sixteen auxiliary seismic station operators took part from nine developing countries: Djibouti, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Peru, Senegal, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. This is one of around 15 trainings annually organized by the CTBTO, in which over 2,000 experts in particular from developing countries have profited.
For me as a new station operator, the exchange with other station operators was extremely useful. I learned a lot about troubleshooting, configuration and software.

With 120 stations – of which 109 are already established – auxiliary seismic stations are the most common type of CTBTO monitoring station. Unlike the network’s 50 primary seismic stations, auxiliary seismic stations send data only upon request. Their data is used to hone in on events identified by the primary seismic network. Identifying the origin of a nuclear explosion as precisely as possible is important to prepare the ground for an on-site inspection. This final verification measure, which will be possible only after the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has entered into force, is limited to 1,000 square kilometres.

Honing in on a nuclear explosion – auxiliary seismic stations enabled to determine the location of the 2006 and 2009 DPRK nuclear tests with greater accuracy.

One of the main reasons for station downtime for the six auxiliary seismic stations in Indonesia is power outages. This workshop was very helpful for helping us to minimize downtime. I am very grateful to the European Union for its support.

Generous EU contribution

Auxiliary seismic stations are also the only type of station whereby the responsibility for operating and maintaining rests with the host State and not with the CTBTO. Some developing countries lack the expertise or resources to do so. Against this background, the European Union has made a major voluntary contribution in 2010 enabling the CTBTO to train station operators and National Data Centre staff from developing countries, who now can participate more actively in the verification of the CTBT.