2016 Archives

Does North Korea really have an H-bomb?


The following is from the Jan. 6, 2016, edition of Science Magazine. Brian Stump, the Albritton Professor of Earth Sciences at SMU, provided expertise for this story. Stump’s work in detecting ground motion from explosions has for more than 20 years proved invaluable to the United States government in ensuring that the world’s nuclear powers abide by their agreements related to underground nuclear testing. He served as scientific adviser to the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Disarmament from 1994 through 1996 and continues to be called upon frequently to assist the U.S. government in the interpretation of seismic and acoustic data.

January 7, 2016

By Richard Stone

Seismograms of North Korea’s four declared nuclear tests that were recorded in Mudanjiang, China, approximately 370 kilometers from the test site.
Seismograms of North Korea’s four declared nuclear tests, courtesy of Andy Frassetto, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

North Korea claims to have detonated its first hydrogen bomb yesterday. But experts are skeptical that the pariah state detonated—not an ordinary atomic device—but a much more powerful “H-bomb of justice,” as state media is now calling it. So what kind of device did the reclusive regime test? And how can nuclear jockeys make such a determination from afar?

Brian Stump
Brian Stump

There’s no doubt that North Korea detonated something near where it conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. Seismic stations yesterday recorded a magnitude-5.1 earthquake with a waveform nearly identical to those registered after North Korea’s earlier tests, supporting its claim. The waveform confirms that an explosion triggered yesterday’s earthquake, says Brian Stump, a seismologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. “It could be a chemical or nuclear explosion, but because of the magnitude it is likely a nuclear explosion,” he says. 

Researchers are now “chewing through the waveforms” registered by seismometers in the region “to see what’s different from 2013,” says Andy Frassetto, a seismologist with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology consortium in Washington, D.C.

Read the full story.