Underwater Explosion (UWE) Analysis of the ROKS Cheonan Incident

So Gu Kim, Yefim Gitterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The underwater explosion (UWE) resulting in the sinking of the South Korean warship, ROKS Cheonan occurred on March 26 2010. Raw data was analyzed from several 3-component stations-Baengyeong-do Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) station (BAR), Ganghwa KMA station (GAHB), Incheon Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) station (INCN), the short-period station-Deokjeok-do KMA station (DEI), as well as from the seismo-acoustic array Baengyeong-do Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM) station (BRDAR). The ROKS Cheonan incident has been investigated by both the Multinational Civilian-Military Joint Investigation Group (Ministry of National Defense, 2010) and Hong (Bull Seism Soc Am 101:1554-1562, 2011). Their respective methods and conclusions are also presented in this study. One of the main differences between their findings and ours is that we deducted that the fundamental bubble frequency was 1.01 Hz with a subsequent oscillation of 1.72 Hz. Also, in contrast to findings by the MCMJIG and Hong, our analysis shows the first reverberation frequency to be 8.5 Hz and the subsequent one to be ≈25 Hz. The TNT-equivalent charge weight (seismic yield) and seismic magnitude were estimated from an observed bubble frequency of 1.01 Hz and the analytical model of a bubble pulse. From the data analyzed, we deducted that the seismic yield would be about 136 kg of TNT, which is equivalent to the individual yield of a large number of land control mines (LCM) which were abandoned in the vicinity of the ROKS Cheonan incident by the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy in the 1970s (Ministry of National Defense 2010). Also, whereas both the MCMJIG and HONG estimated the local magnitude at 1.5, our findings came to the conclusion of a local magnitude of approximately 2.04 based on the bubble frequency of 1.01 Hz measured on the vertical component of BAR station data considering the empirical relationship between charge weight (TNT yield) and underwater explosion magnitude. Strong high-frequency signals collected at the 3-component BAR station approximately 30 s after P-wave arrivals and infrasound records at BRDAR clearly indicate powerful acoustic phases and N-waves caused by a relatively shallow UWE. T-phases are also observed on seismograms and spectra at 15-17 Hz on the DEI, GAHB, and INCN stations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-560
Number of pages14
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Bubble pulse
  • N-wave
  • T-phase
  • bubble collapse
  • toroidal bubble
  • whipping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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