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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/se-2018-102
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/se-2018-102
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 01 Oct 2018

Research article | 01 Oct 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Solid Earth (SE).

A Multi-Technology Analysis of the 2017 North Korean Nuclear Test

Peter Gaebler1, Lars Ceranna1, Nima Nooshiri2, Andreas Barth3, Simone Cesca2, Michaela Frei1, Ilona Grünberg1, Gernot Hartmann1, Karl Koch1, Christoph Pilger1, J. Ole Ross1, and Torsten Dahm2 Peter Gaebler et al.
  • 1BGR, Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Hannover, Germany
  • 2GFZ, German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
  • 3KIT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany

Abstract. On September 3rd 2017 official channels of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea announced the successful test of a thermonuclear device. Only seconds to minutes after the alleged nuclear explosion at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the mountainous region in the country's northeast at 03:30:02 (UTC) hundreds of seismic stations distributed all around the globe picked up strong and distinct signals associated with an explosion. Different seismological agencies reported body wave magnitudes of well above 6.0, consequently estimating the explosive yield of the device in the order of hundreds of kilotons TNT equivalent. The 2017 event can therefore be assessed being multiple times larger in energy than the two preceding events in January and September 2016.

This study provides a multi-technology analysis of the 2017 North Korean event and its aftermath using a wide array of geophysical methods. Seismological investigations locate the event within the test site at a depth of approximately 0.8km below surface. The radiation and generation of P- and S-wave energy in the source region is significantly influenced by the topography of the Mt. Mantap massif. Inversions for the full moment tensor of the main event reveal a dominant isotropic component accompanied by significant amounts of double couple and compensated linear vector dipole terms, confirming the explosive character of the event. Analysis of the source mechanism of an aftershock that occurred around eight minutes after the test in the direct vicinity suggest a cavity collapse. Measurements at seismic stations of the International Monitoring System result in a body wave magnitude of 6.2, which translates to an yield estimate of around 400 kilotons TNT equivalent. The explosive yield is possibly overestimated, since topography and depth phases both tend to ehance the peak amplitudes of teleseismic P-waves. Interferometric Synthetic-Aperture-Radar analysis using data from the ALOS-2 satellite reveal strong surface deformations in the epicenter region. Additional multispectral optical data from the Pleiades satellite show clear landslide activity at the test site. The strong surface deformations generated large acoustic pressure peaks, which were observed as infrasound signals with distinctive waveforms even in distances of 400km. In the aftermath of the 2017 event atmospheric traces of the fission product 133Xe have been detected at various locations in the wider region. While for 133Xe measurements in September 2017 the Punggye-ri test site is disfavored as source by means of atmospheric transport modeling, detections in October 2017 at the International Monitoring System station RN58 in Russia indicate a potential delayed leakage of 133Xe at the test site from the 2017 North Korean nuclear test.

Peter Gaebler et al.
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Peter Gaebler et al.
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Short summary
On September 3rd 2017 official channels of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced the successful test of a nuclear device. This study provides a multi-technology analysis of the 2017 North Korean event and its aftermath using a wide array of geophysical methods (seismology, infrasound, remote sensing, radionuclide monitoring and atmospheric transport modeling). Our results clearly indicate that the September 2017 North Korean event was in fact a nuclear test.
On September 3rd 2017 official channels of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea...
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