- Recent underground nuclear testing, first
in India and then Pakistan, has rocked the world - in more ways than one.
- Politically speaking, it caused an avalanche
of protests and calls for sanctions from around the world.
- In a more immediate sense, the blasts
were seismically detected by stations around the world. And some evidence
shows that the effects may not have stopped there.
- The history of detecting underground
nuclear explosions goes back a few years, when techniques to differentiate
between such explosions and earthquakes were developed in the United States,
at a nuclear testing site in the Nevada desert. Conducted under the auspices
of the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
(LLNL), researchers found, by analyzing the late-arrivig seismic waves
(known as 'coda'), that explosions and quakes could be separated by the
differences in the relative amplitudes of their high-frequency seismic
signals.  In general, explosions create a lot of short-period, P-wave,
activity; quakes generate smaller amounts of short-period activity, followed
by large and erratic long-period, or surface wave, activity.
- Decades earlier, seismographs had been
installed at the site after workers noticed a number of times when earthquakes
followed underground nuclear tests. From the data gathered by the instruments,
geologists determined that the quakes were triggered because the explosions
released natural tectonic stress. 
- The U.S., however, wasn't the only country
to make this determination. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union not only understood
this, but took it to heart - by beginning a "tectonics weapon"
research project. Its goal wasn't just to induce tectonic activity, but
to attempt to direct it in a specific direction at a specific land target.
In 1987, the Communist government ordered a major effort to develop such
a weapon, which continued through the country's collapse and by Russia
until 1992. Only the economic crisis reportedly put the program, first
codenamed "Mercury" and later "Vulcan", on hold indefinitely.
A few years later, its existence was exposed by 'Moscow News', in an article
titled ''Earthquakes Made to Order''. 
- This explosion-quake theory has held
over the years . According to Gerard Fryer, of the University of Hawaii
Insitute of Geophysics and Planetology, as recently as 1995, evidence supported
the idea that such explosions could trigger small events, as strains readjusted
themselves.  Roger Clark, a geophysics lecturer at the University of
Leeds, concurs, saying there is some research that shows "apparent
significant increases in earthquake activity at various magnitudes, usually
less than magnitude-5.0, and up to 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers from underground
nuclear exposions." 
- A look at tectonic activity following
the recent testing bears this out, to a certain degree. Three underground
explosions near the India-Pakistan border, detonated by India on May 11,
resulted in a seismic measurement of magnitude-5.2 . The fact that only
one seismic event was recorded indicates that all three devices were probably
detonated simultaneously. This occurred at 1013GMT (or at 3:13pm local
- Within 24 hours, at May 12/0046GMT, a
magnitude-4.5 quake struck southern Iran, centered at a location approximate
1800 kilometers away.
- Another test, conducted in the same region
of India on May 13 at 0620GMT, was followed less than 7 hours later by
a magnitude-4.2 quake in southern Iran. Within 48 hours, nearby northwest
Kashmir was hit by a magnitude-4.1 temblor, and northeast Taiwan (just
over 3000km away) was struck by a 4.6 quake. Coincidence? Perhaps.
- Soon thereafter, Pakistan began its own
underground testing in response. On Thursaday, May 28, at 1030GMT devices
were detonated beneath the ground in southwest Pakistan. A little over
8 hours later, some 2600km or so due west, in Egypt, a magnitude-5.5 quake
occurred. Closer to ground zero, less than 1400km away, two quakes - 5.6
& 5.3 - hit southern China the same day. The next day, Kyrgyzstan -
less than 2000km away - was struck by a 5.5 temblor. On Saturday, two quakes
- one a small 4.7 tremor, the other deadly at magnitude-6.8 - occurred
at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border, about 1000-1200km due northeast.
- Incredibly, another detonation was set
off by Pakistan about six hours after that deadly quake. Within three hours,
a 4.8 tremor struck the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan.
- A similar effect can be seen over a longer
period of time.
- At the 2nd Annual Conference on the United
Nations and World Peace, almost a decade ago, Gary Whiteford, Professor
of Geology - University of New Brunswick, presented results of a study
that looked at the long term effect. In his study, Whiteford looked at
all earthquakes in the 20th century with intensities greater than magnitude-5.8
. He found that in the first half of the century, before nuclear testing,
quakes greater than 5.8 occurred on an average of 68 times per year. Between
1950 and 1988, the rate rose "suddenly and dramatically" to an
average of 127 annually. The U.S. military chalked it up to "coincidence".
Whiteford responded, "The geographical patterns in the data, with
a clustering of earthquakes in specific regions matched to specific test
dates and sites do not support the easy and comforting explanation of 'pure
coincidence'. It is a dangerous coincidence." With further analysis,
Whiteford found that, in the case of so-called "killer quakes"
- those in which one thousand or more people died - specifically those
occurring between 1953 and 1989, some 62.5% of them struck within a few
days after a nuclear test. 
- The effect on volcanoes is a bit more
speculative, with less evidence, but no less disturbing. On October 2,
1995, the French detonated a 100-110kiloton blast - in an atmospheric test
- on the Polynesian Fangataufa atoll, after which Mount St. Helen's, in
Washington state (US), experienced a series of tremors. Within the next
two weeks, New Zealand's Mt. Puapehu showed intense activity after erupting
near a ski resort. On October 9, Java's Mt. Merapi experienced increased
activity and Japan's Mt. Hosshu erupted for the first time in 257 years.
- After another test on December 27, on
nearby Mururoa atoll, again by the French, Mt. Hosshu erupted again during
the first week of January 1996. Another nuclear test followed on January
27; the Kiluea volcano on Hawaii erupted in early February. Three days
after that Jan. 27 test, a magnitude-6.2 & 6.7 quake hit New Zealand
and a magn-5.8 struck the Kuril Islands. 
- While there appears to have been an increase
in volcanic activity as recently as in the last 1 1/2 months, many active
volcanoes predated the mid- and late- May '98 testing, and those that followed
may be an instance of increasing activity that - coincidentally - has run
concurrently with the latest underground blasts. But past evidence, at
the very least, should make the possibility of a connection an idea to
- What effects, if any, could the recent
tests have on the atmosphere?
- A study conducted about two decades ago,
by researchers at Tokai University, Japan, concluded that "abnormal
meteorological phenomena, earthquakes and fluctuations of the Earth's axis
are related in a direct cause-and-effect to testing of nuclear devices...
by applying the dates of nuclear tests with a force of more than 150 kilotons,
we found that the position of the (geomagnetic) pole slid radically at
the time of the nuclear explosion... Some of the measured changes measured
up to one meter in distance." 
- It is already known that atmospheric
nuclear tests can be detected from Earth's orbit, as a satellite - called
the FORTE' satellite - is currently being designed, which will be able
to detect such tests from above by measuring the nuclear-generated electromagnetic
pulse it generates.
- In the 1950s, above ground detonations
released ionized particles into the atmosphere, which affected the ionosphere.
The ionosphere is an electrically-charged sphere surrounding the Earth's
upper atmosphere. It ranges between 40-560 miles above the planet's surface.
Above that layer is the Magnetosphere, an airless protective envelope created
by the Earth's magnetic field, which begins from about 560 miles above
- The question is, then, can underground
testing generate enough energy to escape, and be detected? From what India's
officials said, no atmospheric fallout was detected. But can one go by
- Incredibly, in the last ten years, including
one occurrence within the two-week period following India's tests, the
aurora borealis - the Northern Lights, seen when particles from the Sun
interact with the magnetosphere at the North Pole - has been behaving in
- When the magnetosphere is energized,
electrons and ions should be drawn towards the magnetic poles and appear
to 'connect' in a circular fashion. However, what has occurred on occasion
has been polar arcs forming on both the dusk and dawn sides and co-existing
in the polar cap at the same time. The aurora has two weak 'crossbars',
one that expands the polar region and another that extends but fails to
make a clear connection on the other side.  Scientists have no explanation
for this 'transpolar arc'.
- Since observing the aurora - the so-called
"footprint of the magnetosphere" - is a way to indirectly observe
what is happening deep in the magnetosphere, the question remains - What
is going on, and what is affecting the magnetosphere?
- Could nuclear testing not only affect
the inner Earth, but its outer reaches as well? It should be considered,
even if speculative at this point, until the possibility is scientifically
eliminated. And until the effects on any and every point on the Earth are
debated, all testing should be halted.
- - Bibliography:  W.R. Walter "Identifying
Clandestine Underground Nuclear Testing by Their Seismic Signatures",
LLNL report, May 1996;  "Seismic Ground Effects from Nuclear Explosions"
Geological Society of America (1970);  Karen Nakamura "A Nuke-Earthquake
Report", The Coastal Post, Dec. 96;  Ask-A-Scientist Online, Oct.
9, 1995;  Omni Mag, May '98;  G.T. Whiteford, "Earthquakes &
Nuclear Testing: Dangerous Patterns & Trends", University of New
Brunswick, April '89;  Karen Nakamura "Final Nuke-Earthquake Report",
The Coastal Post, April '96;  S. Matsume & Y. Kato "Recent
Abnormal Phenomena on Earth & Atomic Power Tests", Tokai University,
1976;  BBC "Odd Behaviour at the North Pole", May 29, 1998.