NOAA Contributes to Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Mission with Atmospheric Modeling

September, 2014

At the end of September, 2014, NOAA will implement an operational, on-demand, backtracking capability to provide potential radionuclide source locations to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). This modeling capability (which utilizes ARL’s HYSPLIT model) will be a part of the CTBTO-World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Backtracking Response System. This system provides atmospheric backtracking capability for clandestine nuclear tests to support the Treaty verification regime. The verification regime is designed to detect any nuclear explosion conducted on Earth—underground, underwater, or in the air.

Background: In late 2007, the WMO Fifteenth Congress recognized the successes of the cooperation with the CTBTO, and that the collaboration on atmospheric transport modeling had reached a mature stage for the implementation of the CTBTO-WMO Backtracking Response System required by the CTBTO verification regime (Becker et al., 2006). The Backtracking Response System requires the commitment of the WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers (RSMC) for Transport Modeling. NOAA, through the NWS and with support from OAR, is one of the WMO designated RSMCs for transport model products. On September 20, 2012, the U.S. Department of State and NOAA entered into a Memorandum of Agreement for projects to make in-kind contributions to the CTBTO Preparatory Commission. NOAA, via the NWS National Center for Environmental Prediction, agreed to become an operational center for the CTBTO backtracking capabilities by utilizing the Air Resources Laboratory’s HYSPLIT dispersion model. NOAA will become one of nine RSMCs contributing to the response system. The U.S. modeling support complements the existing U.S. monitoring network contribution to the CTBTO verification regime.

Significance: The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions on the planet in any environment. Although nuclear tests have been reduced significantly since the signing of the CTBT in 1996, the CTBTO uses a verification regime that includes monitoring countries’ compliance with the Treaty. The CTBTO is well advanced in implementing the International Monitoring System, including a worldwide monitoring system for radionuclides. However, because the monitoring system may not always provide information on the probable location of an event, atmospheric transport modeling is needed to confirm that the radionuclides detected are associated with the suspected event.

For More Information, contact: Roland Draxler