Science

Here is how the tech used in nuclear bomb detection helped us learn more about whales

YouTubers MinuteEarth explain the surprising connection.

Did you know that nuclear bombs may have played a role in our understanding of whales and, indeed, many other wonders of the natural world?

Let the brilliant minds at MinuteEarth, the YouTube channel about all the interesting stuff that goes on here on our planet, explain.

The hydroacoustic systems used to detect nuclear bombs turned out to be useful for detecting whales, volcanic activity and even the movement of icebergs – but the YouTube creators say there are many more instances where nuclear bomb detection technology benefited us humans.

“There are lots,” Alex Reich, the writer for the video, told the Press Association.

“A few that we’ve heard (of) include the 2009 Ulyanovsk explosion in Russia, the tertiary phase of the Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan and a series of fuel-air explosions at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal.”

Those explosions in Hertfordshire can be heard in the video below.

So, how do scientists at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) decide which sounds are nuclear explosions?

“CTBTO does a lot of impressive calculations about the waves, and combine those with a fourth component of their detection system, radionuclide, that is nuclear specific,” said Reich. “Then if they still think there’s a nuclear test, they might go do a site visit.”

It turns out much of the difficulty the organisation faces comes from the fact not all countries have signed the treaty attached to the CTBTO’s investigations, meaning they can’t yet do these site visits.

MinuteEarth’s sister channel MinutePhysics has a video which explains in a bit more detail the difficulties CTBTO has to tackle.

MinuteEarth and MinutePhysics are all about sharing information in fun, bite-sized chunks – and if you found these videos interesting, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s more intrigue to come.

“In the next few MinuteEarth videos, we’ll actually explore some interesting facts about the meteors that hit earth, talk about worms, and explore the social structure of hyena clans,” said Reich.

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