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It looks like I'm in the middle of nowhere,
and I guess I am.
About a mile that way is Qaanaaq,
on the west coast of Greenland,
about 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The town has more sled dogs than people; the locals, some of them,
still hunt seals and narwhal when the ice retreats in the summer.
And just outside the town, someone is listening for nuclear explosions.
In 1989, 183 countries signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The Cold War had just ended, and with the threat of nuclear apocalypse
seeming just a little less likely,
the idea of the treaty was to completely ban nuclear explosions,
even for research.
Two decades later,
and the treaty is still not enforced, because politics.
But the people who drafted the treaty thought that might happen,
and created the Preparatory Commission,
whose job it is to get everything in place for when the treaty
hopefully, eventually, comes into force --
and even if it never actually happens,
to try and do some good anyway.
And this over here is one of the results:
IS18, an infrasound listening station,
part of a network that spans the planet.
It’s a microbarograph: a set of very precise air pressure sensors,
and it listens for very low frequency sound waves,
far below the range of human hearing.
They’re less like sound,
and more like massive disturbances in the air
that travel round the globe after enormous explosions.
I'm an electronics engineer,
and my job here, now, is to maintain the infrasound station.
If you just put a microbarometer in the air,
the noise from the wind will be killing every signal.
So we have these arrays, we have 96 inlets.
It all goes to the barometer.
Because we have that many inlets, it is not really probable
that the wind noise will be exactly the same at all those inlets
so they are fed to a central manifold
and the wind will sort-of cancel out.
It really does!
Detecting something doesn’t mean that there’s been a nuclear test —
it might be a meteor breaking up, a volcano erupting,
or even a massive iceberg calving off a glacier nearby —
but if it can't be explained like that,
then governments should start asking questions.
Results from here go to the Commission’s headquarters in Vienna,
via a base in the middle of town,
where they’re combined with those
from the dozens of other listening stations around the planet.
And as well as that, the commission uses hydroacoustic sensors
to detect underwater explosions,
seismic stations that detect earthquakes from nuclear tests,
and radionuclide detection stations
that check the level of radioactivity in the air.
You can see from the time difference
when the individual stations detect the pressure wave.
From that you can deduct what direction it's coming form.
The nuclear test ban treaty, if it ever actually comes into force,
will apply around the world.
Even up here in the Arctic.
And theoretically, some rogue government could be ridiculous enough
to try and get away with a nuclear test in the Arctic.
After all, back in the 20th century,
about a fifth of all Soviet nuclear tests were in the Russian Arctic –
and that included Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear bomb in history.
Even if new testing in the Arctic is unlikely,
data from here can still help triangulate other explosions.
When you’re designing a network to keep watch on the planet,
not just where most of the people live,
that network really does have to be global.
Even if that means setting up a research base
in one of the most remote locations on Earth.
I'm here because of Chris Hadfield's Generator Arctic!
It's an amazing chance to be here on the top of the world,
Ellesmere Island, glacier right behind us,
and we're going to put on a show in Toronto.
Massey Hall, November 12th.
And apart from that, go see all the videos
from all the people who were on this expedition.
Links are on screen and in the description now.
Thank you so much!
My pleasure.
Nice to be here!