The Christian Science Monitor carries a provocatively titled article today: “How India’s nuclear secrecy hampers earthquake detection.” The article investigates India’s refusal to share real-time seismic data on the grounds that it could reveal information about underground nuclear testing:
In the wake of the recent earthquake that devastated Kashmir, some Indian officials are reevaluating the government’s refusal to share real-time online seismology data with the international community.
India has balked at putting seismic data online because it could provide evidence of underground nuclear testing. The country’s refusal to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty also excludes it from exchanging data with the International Monitoring System, a global network of seismological sensors operated by treaty signatories.
Seismologists can more rapidly and accurately pinpoint the location and power of an earthquake when real-time data can be triangulated against a wide network of sensors. A delay of even seconds in reporting data induces errors in the exact location and could set back relief efforts in their crucial early stages, prompting some scientists here to argue against data hoarding.
Such are the consequences of brinkmanship. We can’t let the other guy know what the yield of our newest, baddest weapon is no matter what.
As for the value of sharing seismic data in the event of a future earthquake, some decision-makers in Delhi have yet to get the message. “Share data? What for?” asked an official from the Ministry of Science, sounding nonplussed when questioned about India’s policy to not make real-time data available via broadband.
“Open-data sharing in seismology over the past century … has been of enormous importance in reporting of earthquakes and studies of global and regional earthquakes,” says Shane Ingate, director of operations at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) in Washington, the world’s repository for data from most seismic networks around the globe. “It is regrettable that India … imposes restriction on the open and rapid access of these important data.”
Emerging technologies are making it possible to detect blasts and blast yields even without rigorous seismic data, so it doesn’t make much sense for India to maintain this policy, especially when releasing that data could help save lives.