What is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and what is the role of seismology in monitoring it?

On September 10, 1996, the United Nations General Assembly voted 158-3 to approve a treaty prohibiting all nuclear tests. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been signed by 130 nations - including the United States. President Clinton signed the agreement on September 24, 1996.

Seismology is one of several fields which plays a role in monitoring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Underground nuclear explosions produce seismic waves with unique characteristics which allow the discrimination between explosions and earthquakes.

Learn more: UC Berkeley: Automated Moment Tensor Software for Monitoring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

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Can nuclear explosions cause earthquakes?

A nuclear explosion can cause an earthquake and even an aftershock sequence. However, earthquakes induced by explosions have been much smaller than the explosion, and the aftershock sequence produces fewer and smaller aftershocks than a similar size earthquake. Not all explosions have caused earthquakes. The range of a possible earthquake...

How can you tell the difference between an explosion and an earthquake on a seismogram?

Explosions and earthquakes both release a large amount of energy very quickly, and both can be recorded by seismic instruments. However, because the forces involved in each are very different, the waveforms that each creates look different. Nuclear tests are very near the surface of the earth; all of the energy is released from a small volume...

Can we use a lot of explosives to cause small earthquakes in order to prevent having large ones?

No. Even huge amounts of explosive almost never cause even small earthquakes, and it would take hundreds and thousands of small earthquakes to equal a large one, even if it could be done. In addition, we wouldn't have any control over the size of the earthquake being created if it worked, since small and large earthquakes all start out in exactly...
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Date published: September 8, 2016

Possible Explosion of Magnitude 5.3 in North Korea

A possible explosion of magnitude 5.3 occurred in North Korea on September 9, 2016 at 00:30:01 UTC (9:00 am local time).

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Global Seismographic Network illustration

Global Seismographic Network

Global Seismographic Network

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey
October 17, 1989

Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey

Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey record (1) north-south horizontal, (2) east-west horizontal, and (3) vertical components of the earthquake.