The explosions came one after another, a relentless series of bombings that echoed across Kyiv in the first weeks of the war. Residents at the center of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were forced underground into makeshift shelters.
While the fight for Ukraine’s capital is well known, researchers have developed a new tool to systematically document Russian attacks by using one of the most universal elements of the battlefield: the explosions that shook the earth.
Seismic waves were generated when Russia fired artillery, airstrikes and missiles across northern Ukraine. For the first time, researchers in Norway and Ukraine studied data from dozens of earthquake sensors around Kyiv, estimating the position and strength of each explosion to see the full extent of the Russian barrage.
There is no perfect way to chronicle a war, and the seismic record has gaps. Attacks farther from the sensors are most likely to be missed. A few of the explosions may have been set off by Ukraine. And the unique geology of the city of Kyiv, built on wetlands and floodplains, deadens signals from explosions, researchers say.
But unlike the selective focus of traditional war reporting, seismic detections can track blasts at any time, picking up hundreds of attacks that were not previously reported. And the objective measurements can see through the distortions of social media reports and aggressive propaganda from both sides.