The same sensors that routinely scour the planet for telltale signs of nuclear weapons tests, such as the one North Korea conducted this week, can be used to track whales, monitor air pollution and forewarn of tsunamis, among other science projects.
"The concept of connecting arms control monitoring to environmental monitoring has been emerging in the community of specialists who think about this for a while," geophysicist Raymond Jeanloz, with the University of California Berkeley, told Discovery News.
Since the mid-1990s, a United Nations-backed organization has monitored compliance to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with a worldwide network of seismometers, radiation detectors and acoustic sensors on land and in the oceans.
The treaty, which prohibits nuclear explosions for any purpose, has been ratified by 159 countries. Another 24, including the United States, have signed the agreement, but not ratified it.
The network, which currently consists of 337 facilities around the world, is not the only one that keeps tabs on the planet's land, oceans and atmosphere for evidence of nuclear explosions by monitoring sound waves and analyzing air samples.