Our own Big Bang

Geophysical Institute detonates 80 tons of explosives in the desert to test sound waves.

The Seismology Branch of the Geophysical Institute of Israel carried out a controlled detonation of 80 tons of explosives as part of a joint Israel-US-European scientific experiment on Wednesday morning. The above-ground explosion in the Negev desert was equal to an earthquake of 3.0 on the Richter scale. The purpose of the test was to generate acoustic waves in the atmosphere and then measure them, Seismology Branch Head Dr. Rami Hofstetter told The Jerusalem Post. Teams in countries throughout Europe and the Mediterranean basin were monitoring the results, he said. As with many scientific experiments, the road to results is often very slow and exacting. Hofstetter said he did not expect to produce a final report on the experiment "for at least a year." He added that "just setting up the experiment took three years." However, very initial results indicated the explosion went as planned, according to the scientist. He said he and his colleagues were "pleased at the moment. The very initial partial results look good." While the purpose of the experiment was to test acoustic waves over long distances, Israel's own acoustic sensors also picked up the explosion, and their results will be analyzed as well. Similar tests were held in 2004 and 2005, although with smaller explosions involved. The project is funded by the US Defense Department and is a joint endeavor of the Seismology Branch of the Israel Geophysical Institute, which is part of the National Infrastructures Ministry, and the University of Hawaii, in collaboration with the teams in Europe. Hofstetter said there were no military applications to the experiment, despite Defense Department funding. "The US Defense and Energy Departments offer publicly available research grants. We applied for one and received it just like anyone else can," Hofstetter told the Post. The scientists will monitor the sound waves resulting from the explosion to better understand them. Data will be collected as far away as Germany, France, Holland, Greece and Cyprus, among other countries. The data will also be used in part to evaluate Israel's earthquake monitoring systems. The government has recently budgeted a three-year upgrade program for Israel's seismic sensors as part of a larger program to more sufficiently prepare the country for earthquakes. A Knesset committee worked on developing a set of recommendations and evaluations throughout 2008. Many have speculated that Israel is due for a major quake sometime soon, but prediction technology is not yet at the point where such things can be pinpointed. Such a quake could still be years away, if at all. Hofstetter said these acoustic waves were in no way useful for predicting earthquakes.