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At the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), American researchers are unveiling a new tool for detecting illegal nuclear explosions: Earth's global positioning system (GPS).
Even underground nuclear tests leave their mark on the part of the upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere, the researchers discovered, when they examined GPS data recorded the same day as a North Korean nuclear test in 2009. Within minutes on that day, GPS stations in nearby countries registered a change in ionospheric electron density, as a bubble of disturbed particles spread out from the test site and across the planet.
"Its as if the shockwave from the underground explosion caused the earth to 'punch up' into the atmosphere, creating another shockwave that pushed the air away from ground zero," said Ralph von Frese, professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University and senior author on the study.