The "unreasonable" usefulness of CTBTO data for disaster warning and science

A symposium on 17 February 2013 featuring eminent Earth scientists highlighted how data from the 337 worldwide facilities, which will make up the complete global warning system of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), can be used also for disaster warning and science. The event took place at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from 14 to 18 February 2013 in Boston, United States.
Following the meeting’s credo of the “unreasonable effectiveness of the scientific enterprise”, the CTBTO symposium is titled the “Unreasonable Usefulness of Test-Ban Verification for Disaster Warning and Science”. Participants at the conference are also welcome to visit the CTBTO’s booth (#901 in Hall C) to learn more about the organization’s work.

CTBTO Sound Quiz

In the run up to the AAAS meeting, we are releasing some of the best sounds recorded by our hydroacoustic and infrasound stations - can you guess what they are? Come and take the quiz. A new sound will be released every second day, starting 31 January 2013: Sound Quiz #1  -  Answer for Sound Quiz #1 Sound Quiz #2  -  Answer for Sound Quiz #2 Sound Quiz #3  -  Answer for Sound Quiz #3 Sound Quiz #4  -  Answer for Sound Quiz #4 Sound Quiz #5  -  Answer for Sound Quiz #5 Sound Quiz #6  -  Answer for Sound Quiz #6
In the face of the tragic events, the CTBTO quickly provided the international community with accurate and objective information on the composition and dispersion of radionuclides worldwide.

In the process of monitoring for nuclear explosions, the CTBTO’s monitoring system is generating a mass of data that scientists have only recently begun to use for disaster mitigation and Earth science research. A number of countries in tsunami high risk areas are already using CTBTO data to issue more timely and precise warnings. The system also detected the earthquake, tsunami and radioactive emissions from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant during the March 2011 Japan disaster, providing the international community with first-hand, near-real time information.

The symposium highlighted how CTBTO data could also be used to study climate change, volcanic eruptions, meteorites, storm systems, and even to monitor the movement of whales, as well as many other potential applications. It was moderated by Lassina Zerbo (image), who is currently the Director of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre and has been elected to take over the leadership of the organization on 1 August 2013 from Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth, whose term ends the day before.

Lassina Zerbo, Project Executive for the Science and Technology Conferences in both 2011 and 2013

The Beneficial Partnership between the Earth Sciences and Nuclear Detection

Raymond Jeanloz, Professor of Earth and Planetary Science and Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley Jeanloz argued that advances in Earth sciences have significantly enhanced the sensitivity and reliability of nuclear explosion detection over the past two decades through the deployment of sensors around the globe. Scientific disciplines including seismology, hydroacoustics, infrasound and atmospheric transport modelling have contributed to the improved observation of nuclear explosions. Data from nuclear explosion monitoring have also been found to have broader societal applications, from tsunami warnings to global climate change studies. Earth sciences have thus served the policy community by offering enhanced means of detecting nuclear explosions, and the capabilities deployed for this purpose have – in turn – greatly contributed to this scientific field. View Jeanloz' presentation (PDF)

Raymond Jeanloz moderated the opening session at the Science and Technology 2011 Conference.

Key Ingredients for Innovation

David Strangway, President and Founding Chancellor, Quest University, and former Chief, NASA’s Geophysics Branch. Strangway spoke about how landing a man on the moon in 1969 led to remarkable scientific breakthroughs in areas ranging from the origins of the solar system to how the Earth is changing. The innovation was a result of the interaction between the original demand to put a man on the moon and the supply of basic and applied science. Similarly, the demand by countries to set up a verification system to monitor the globe for clandestine nuclear explosions has played a significant role in helping scientists to understand the distribution of earthquakes and the changing boundaries of the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust. This interaction of demand and supply-driven innovations has produced extraordinary scientific breakthroughs. View Strangway's presentatio (PDF)   

David Strangway was one of the keynote speakers at the Science and Technology 2011 Conference.

Inside Planet Earth

Miaki Ishii, Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University Ishii’s presentation explained how the CTBTO’s seismic component consists of 170 seismic stations around the globe to detect and locate underground nuclear explosions. However, the seismic data generated by the stations also show the Earth’s interior from just beneath our feet down to the centre of the planet, at almost 4,000 miles (nearly 6,500 km) below the surface. For example, CTBTO data help us understand the forces that drive plate tectonics and hence processes in the Earth’s crust where, for instance, earthquakes occur. Other data shed light on the Earth’s solid inner core and liquid outer core, the latter of which plays a role in generating the Earth’s magnetic field; this, in turn, shields us from harmful cosmic rays. View Ishii's presentation (PDF)

Miaki Ishii, Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University

Join the next scientific pilgrimage to Vienna

The symposium provided an impression of the type of discussions anticipated at the Science and Technology Conference from 17 to 21 June 2013 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. The previous conference in 2011 attracted around 750 scientists, diplomats and representatives of civil society and the media from 105 countries. Registration is open: