, Volume 158, Issue 1-2, pp 143-171

A Study of Small Magnitude Seismic Events During 1961–1989 on and near the Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakhstan

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 — Official Russian sources in 1996 and 1997 have stated that 340 underground nuclear tests (UNTs) were conducted during 1961–1989 at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) in Eastern Kazakhstan. Only 271 of these nuclear tests appear to have been described with well-determined origin time, coordinates and magnitudes in the openly available technical literature. Thus, good open documentation has been lacking for 69 UNTs at STS.¶The main goal of our study was to provide detections, estimates of origin time and location, and magnitudes, for as many of these previously undocumented events as possible. We used data from temporary and permanent seismographic stations in the former USSR at distances from 500 km to about 1500 km from STS. As a result, we have been able to assign magnitude for eight previously located UNTs whose magnitude was not previously known. For 31 UNTs, we have estimated origin time an d assigned magnitude — and for 19 of these 31 we have obtained locations based on seismic signals. Of the remaining 30 poorly documented UNTs, 15 had announced yields that were less than one ton, and 13 occurred simultaneously with another test which was detected. There are only two UNTs, for which the announced yield exceeds one ton and we have been unable to find seismic signals.¶Most of the newly detected and located events were sub-kiloton. Their magnitudes range from 2.7 up to 5.1 (a multi-kiloton event on 1965 Feb. 4 that was often obscured at teleseismic stations by signals from an earthquake swarm in the Aleutians).¶For 17 small UNTs at STS, we compare the locations (with their uncertainties) that we had earlier determined in 1994 from analysis of regional seismic waves, with ground-truth information obtained in 1998. The average error of the seismically-determined locations is only about 5 km. The ground-truth location is almost alw ays within the predicted small uncertainty of the seismically-determined location.¶Seismically-determined yield estimates are in good agreement with the announced total annual yield of nuclear tests, for each year from 1964 to 1989 at Semipalatinsk.¶We also report the origin time, location, and seismic magnitude of 29 chemical explosions and a few earthquakes on or near STS during the years 1961–1989.¶Our new documentation of STS explosions is important for evaluating the detection, location, and identification capabilities of teleseismic and regional arrays and stations; and how these capabilities have changed with time.

(Received June 30, 1999, revised February 2, 2000, accepted February 9, 2000)