How an underwater sensor network is tracking Argentina’s lost submarine

By Davide Castelvecchi

On 15 November, Argentina’s Navy lost contact with the ARA San Juan, a small diesel-powered submarine that had been involved in exercises off the east coast of Patagonia.

About a week later, on 23 November, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced that its International Monitoring System — a network of sensors designed to detect nuclear explosions wherever they happen around the globe — had picked up a sound consistent with that of an explosion near the vessel’s last-known location. The submarine is carrying 44 crew members.

The CTBTO’s system has numerous scientific applications and this is not the first time that it has been put to use in the aftermath of a possible disaster. In 2000, for example, researchers searched its data for signs of the lost Russian submarine Kursk, and in 2014 they used it to try to determine the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370Nature spoke to CTBTO hydroacoustic engineer Mario Zampolli about the latest search.

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