Sandia’s 3D Earth Model Pinpoints Source of Earthquakes and Explosions

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The Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs have partnered to develop a 3-D model of the Earth’s mantle. Called SALSA3D, the model is designed to assist US Air Force and the international Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization to more accurately locate all types of explosions.

When you have an earthquake or nuclear explosion, not only do you need to know where it happened, but also how well you know that,” said Sandia National Laboratories researcher Sandy Ballard. “That’s a difficult problem for these big 3-D models. It’s mainly a computational problem. The math is not so tough, just getting it done is hard, and we’ve accomplished that.”

International test ban treaties require that on-site inspections can only occur within a 1,000-square-kilometer (385-square-mile) area surrounding a suspected nuclear test site. Today, 3-D Earth models like SALSA3D are helping to meet and sometimes significantly exceed this threshold in most parts of the world.

It’s extremely difficult to do because the problem is so large,” Ballard said. “But we’ve got to know it within 1,000 square kilometers or they might search in the wrong place.”

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