Scientists create a digital map of 200-foot crater in Bikini Atoll caused by first-ever underwater nuclear explosion in 1946 US military test

  • A  massive crater still punctuates the Bikini Atoll after nuclear tests during WWII
  • First-ever digital maps reveal details about the test site never seen before 
  • Experts studied the ‘Baker’ test which is the first underwater atomic explosion 
  • The blast launched 2 million tons of water skyward and destroyed coral beds 
  • Researchers say radiation has decreased while debris still threatens the ocean

Unprecedented digital maps from one of World War II’s first-ever nuclear test sites reveal the devastation left by more than 20 underwater atomic bombs. 

Images of the Bikini Atoll, created using sonar and shown at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union this week, offer a glimpse into how the sea floor was permanently altered by American military tests between 1946 and 1954.

‘It seems as if Captain Marvel herself has punched the planet and put a dent into it,’ Dr Art Trembanis from the University of Delaware told reporters at the American Geophysical Union meeting according to BBC.

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Sonar was used to map the site where an atomic explosion permanently marred a swath of the Bikini Atoll in a test conducted by the US military during WWII

Sonar was used to map the site where an atomic explosion permanently marred a swath of the Bikini Atoll in a test conducted by the US military during WWII

As noted by BBC, tests at Bikini Atoll – a location chosen for its remoteness and proximity to a lagoon – involved placing a 21 kiliton bomb nearly 30 meters below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. 

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An initial blast from the atomic bomb ‘Baker’ hurled 2 million tons of water and debris into the sky, eviscerated coral beds in proximity, and left behind the wreckage of ships intentionally place within the bomb’s blast radius.

While researchers –  who have been unable to safely survey the region since the blasts – had initially expected that the crater would be covered by sediment over time, sonar readings show that the blemish is still in tact.   

Mapping showed a rippled effect across the blast site created by falling debris from the test ships positioned over the bomb during detonation.

Unlike the radiation levels, which have consistently dropped since the initial explosion, researchers say the debris from battle ships left in the explosions’ wake continue to endanger ocean life.

The explosion altered swaths of the sea floor and send debris hurling into the air. Researchers say the crater's dimpled appearance was caused by falling pieces of war ships purposely left in the bomb's blast radius

The explosion altered swaths of the sea floor and send debris hurling into the air. Researchers say the crater’s dimpled appearance was caused by falling pieces of war ships purposely left in the bomb’s blast radius

Ships used in the test – outdated vessels from the US, Japan, and Germany – were not properly decommissioned before the explosion and were destroyed with munitions and fuel still aboard.

As a result, researchers say fuel continues to leak out – a problem they say may continue to worsen as the sunken hulls continue to degrade.

‘As we were mapping, I could know without looking up when we were near the [US aircraft carrier] Saratoga, because we could smell the bunker fuel; it was so heavy and is still streaking out,’ Trembanis told the BBC.

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‘The Nagato – which was the Japanese flagship that [Admiral Isoroku] Yamamoto used to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor – had a streak of fuel coming out from it for many miles.’



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