The rise, collapse, and compaction of Mt. Mantap from the 3 September 2017 North Korean nuclear test

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Science  13 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6398, pp. 166-170
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7230

Nuclear testing under the radar

North Korea conducted its sixth underground nuclear weapons test in September 2017. The seismic waves generated from the test allow for triangulation and explosive yield estimates. However, Wang et al. show that synthetic aperture radar (SAR) should be added to the arsenal of techniques used to detect and characterize nuclear tests. SAR tracks deformation from space, which resulted in a better constraint of source parameters by using deformation from the nuclear test and the subsequent collapse of Mount Mantap. The test occurred at a depth of about half a kilometer, with an explosive yield around 10 times that of the Hiroshima explosion.

Science, this issue p. 166


Surveillance of clandestine nuclear tests relies on a global seismic network, but the potential of spaceborne monitoring has been underexploited. We used satellite radar imagery to determine the complete surface displacement field of up to 3.5 meters of divergent horizontal motion with 0.5 meters of subsidence associated with North Korea’s largest underground nuclear test. Combining insight from geodetic and seismological remote sensing, we found that the aftermath of the initial explosive deformation involved subsidence associated with subsurface collapse and aseismic compaction of the damaged rocks of the test site. The explosive yield from the nuclear detonation with best-fitting source parameters for 450-meter depth was 191 kilotonnes of TNT equivalent. Our results demonstrate the capability of spaceborne remote sensing to help characterize large underground nuclear tests.

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