Accurate relative location estimates for the North Korean nuclear tests using empirical slowness corrections

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Steven J. Gibbons , Frank Pabian, Sven Peter Näsholm , Tormod Kværna, Svein Mykkeltveit


Declared North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016 were observed seismically at regional and teleseismic distances. Waveform similarity allows the events to be located relatively with far greater accuracy than the absolute locations can be determined from seismic data alone. There is now significant redundancy in the data given the large number of regional and teleseismic stations that have recorded multiple events, and relative location estimates can be confirmed independently by performing calculations on many mutually exclusive sets of measurements. Using a 1-D global velocity model, the distances between the events estimated using teleseismic P phases are found to be approximately 25 per cent shorter than the distances between events estimated using regional Pn phases. The 2009, 2013 and 2016 events all take place within 1 km of each other and the discrepancy between the regional and teleseismic relative location estimates is no more than about 150 m. The discrepancy is much more significant when estimating the location of the more distant 2006 event relative to the later explosions with regional and teleseismic estimates varying by many hundreds of metres. The relative location of the 2006 event is challenging given the smaller number of observing stations, the lower signal-to-noise ratio and significant waveform dissimilarity at some regional stations. The 2006 event is however highly significant in constraining the absolute locations in the terrain at the Punggye-ri test-site in relation to observed surface infrastructure. For each seismic arrival used to estimate the relative locations, we define a slowness scaling factor which multiplies the gradient of seismic traveltime versus distance, evaluated at the source, relative to the applied 1-D velocity model. A procedure for estimating correction terms which reduce the double-difference time residual vector norms is presented together with a discussion of the associated uncertainty. The modified velocity gradients reduce the residuals, the relative location uncertainties and the sensitivity to the combination of stations used. The traveltime gradients appear to be overestimated for the regional phases, and teleseismic relative location estimates are likely to be more accurate despite an apparent lower precision. Calibrations for regional phases are essential given that smaller magnitude events are likely not to be recorded teleseismically. We discuss the implications for the absolute event locations. Placing the 2006 event under a local maximum of overburden at 41.293°N, 129.105°E would imply a location of 41.299°N, 129.075°E for the January 2016 event, providing almost optimal overburden for the later four events.



Earth Sciences, Geophysics and Seismology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Seismology, CTBT, DPRK, North Korea, Nuclear Explosion Monitoring, Double Difference locations, Nuclear Testing, Punggye-ri, Relative Event Location, Slowness Corrections


Published: 2017-11-01 18:51


Academic Free License (AFL) 3.0

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