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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Annual Report 1999-2000

CTBT Developments in Australia

On 23 December 1999 the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, issued a press release welcoming the conclusion of a contract valued in excess of $10 million to establish a hydroacoustic monitoring station off Cape Leeuwin for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). This station will be one of only eleven CTBT stations around the world listening for signs of an underwater nuclear explosion. Its location off the south-west corner of Australia is critical to effective monitoring of significant parts of both the Indian and Southern Oceans.

The heart of the Cape Leeuwin station will be an undersea triplet of hydrophones designed to detect the sounds generated by explosions, and in particular by any nuclear explosion, that may be carried out at or below the ocean surface. Overall, the station comprises three main elements:

  • a triplet of hydrophones located approximately 114 km south-west of Cape Leeuwin in 1590 metres of water. The hydrophones will be at a depth of about 1100 m and will be suspended from a cable attached to the sea floor;
  • a shore facility which powers the hydrophone array and records and transmits data from it via a satellite link (and possibly by land-line) to analysis centres in Vienna and Canberra; and
  • a seabed cable (2-3 cm diameter) to carry power and data between the hydrophone array and shore facility. The cable would be laid on the sea floor, anchored at various points (and buried where possible). The few kilometres closest to shore would be laid in a split pipe fixed to rock. This should minimise the risk for accidental damage from marine traffic.

Hydrophone arrays such as this are extremely sensitive listening tools. Sound travels very efficiently through water, but this is especially so through part of the ocean called the SOFAR channel:

  • the change in the temperature and pressure of water with depth works to refract sound waves into a particular channelwhich in the deep oceans is about 1km down;
  • by placing hydrophones in this channel, it is possible to pick up sounds at very large distances.

The hydroacoustic signal generated by an underwater nuclear explosion has certain characteristics which assists its identification. The appearance of a bubble pulse (from expansion and then contraction of the gas bubble formed by the explosion) is a strong indicator. The frequency mix of sound generated by an explosion is a good indicator also, as is a rapid rise time when the signal first arrives.

Establishment and operation of the CTBT's International Monitoring System (IMS) is being co-ordinated and financed internationally by the Provisional Technical Secretariat of the CTBT Organisation (CTBTO-PTS)based in Vienna. Co-ordination of the development of Australian IMS facilities is the responsibility of ASNO. In 1998 the CTBTO-PTS commissioned CSIRO to carry out a survey of the site for the Cape Leeuwin station. The contract to establish the station has been concluded with the US firm Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), with Nautronix Ltd of Perth (WA) as their major sub-contractor. Installation of the station is planned during 2001.

The potential for data from the IMS to contribute to scientific and humanitarian activities is an important element of the CTBT. Data from the Cape Leeuwin station could contribute to monitoring of global warming through a CSIRO project to accurately measure the speed of sound in the Indian Oceanand thereby ocean temperature.

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