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Alumni

Earth sciences grad monitors nuclear testing compliance

Jennifer Swenson
Jennifer Swenson
Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California

Ratification of the comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty was defeated in the United States Senate again last year in part due to concerns that there is not yet a reliable method of monitoring compliance and stockpile stewardship.

The treaty prohibits all nuclear weapon test explosions or other nuclear explosions anywhere in the world as "a meaningful step in the realization of a systematic process to achieve nuclear disarmament."

But how can you tell the difference between a clandestine underground nuclear test and the hundreds of earthquakes and large industrial explosions that occur every day? Good question. Ask Jennifer Swenson '92.

"Our research groups use seismic event location, depth and other characteristics to identify a seismic event as being of a non-nuclear origin," Swenson said. "The ultimate goal of our research is to be able to detect, locate and identify all seismic events with high confidence."

Swenson is one of a group of geophysicists working in the Nuclear Test Monitoring Research Program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The group's task is to provide the U.S. National Data Center with the analytic tools needed to monitor for nuclear explosions underground.

An Earth sciences graduate of PLU, Swenson earned her geophysics master's of science in 1994 and her Ph.D last year from the University of Arizona.

"My work at the University of Arizona focused on the crustal structure and tectonics of the central Andes of Bolivia," Swenson said. "Scientists at Livermore had seen my presentations at conferences and invited me to give a talk. They later offered me my current post-doctoral position in seismology that began eight months ago."

Swenson's Livermore working group focuses on seismic monitoring in the Middle East and North Africa. Using field experiments, analysis of existing data and computer modeling, they are developing a geological and geophysical database that will provide event detection, location and identification algorithms tuned to that particular corner of the world.

"I love my job. I can't fully describe how much I've learned since I arrived here," Swenson said.

"The work is a fascinating mix of science and its practical application in politics, diplomacy, cultures and world events," she said. "It's just incredible to me that I'm part of a team that has been tasked by the U.S. Department of Energy to work on such an interesting and practical scientific problem."


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