Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bikini corals recover from atomic blast

16.04.2008
Half a century after the last earth-shattering atomic blast shook the Pacific atoll of Bikini, the corals are flourishing again. Some coral species, however, appear to be locally extinct.

These are the findings of a remarkable investigation by an international team of scientists from Australia, Germany, Italy, Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. The expedition examined the diversity and abundance of marine life in the atoll.

One of the most interesting aspects is that the team dived into the vast Bravo Crater left in 1954 by the most powerful American atom bomb ever exploded (15 megatonnes - a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb). The Bravo bomb vapourised three islands, raised water temperatures to 55,000 degrees, shook islands 200 kilometers away and left a crater 2km wide and 73m deep.

After diving into the crater, Zoe Richards of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University says, “I didn’t know what to expect – some kind of moonscape perhaps. But it was incredible, huge matrices of branching Porites coral (up to 8 meters high) had established, creating thriving coral reef habitat. Throughout other parts of the lagoon it was awesome to see coral cover as high as 80 per cent and large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks 30cm thick. It was fascinating – I’ve never seen corals growing like trees outside of the Marshall Islands.

“The healthy condition of the coral at Bikini atoll today is proof of their resilience and ability to bounce back from massive disturbances, that is, if the reef is left undisturbed and there are healthy nearby reefs to source the recovery.”

However the research has also revealed a disturbingly high level of loss of coral species from the atoll. Compared with a famous study made before the atomic tests were carried out, the team established that 42 species were missing compared to the early 1950s. At least 28 of these species losses appear to be genuine local extinctions probably due to the 23 bombs that were exploded there from 1946-58, or the resulting radioactivity, increased nutrient levels and smothering from fine sediments.

“The missing corals are fragile lagoonal specialists – slender branching or leafy forms that you only find in the sheltered waters of a lagoon,” Zoe explains. While corals in general have shown resilience, Zoe adds that the coral biodiversity at Bikini Atoll has proven only partially resilient to the disturbances that have occurred there.

Maria Beger from the Commonwealth Research Facility for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis at The University of Queensland took a Geiger counter with her on the expedition.

“The ambient gamma radiation the residential island of Bikini atoll was fairly low – pretty much like the background radiation in an Australian city. However when I put the Geiger counter near a coconut, which accumulates radioactive material from the soil, it went berserk,” Maria remembers.

Extensive decontamination works have been carried out at Bikini atoll making it safe to visit, however local produce is unsafe to eat, and it is unlikely the Bikinian people will return to live on Bikini Atoll in the near future.

The coral survey was carried out at the request of the atoll’s local government.
For comparison the team also dived on neighbouring Rongelap Atoll, where no atomic tests were carried out directly although the atoll was contaminated by radioactive ash from the Bravo Bomb and local inhabitants were also evacuated and for the most part, have not returned. The marine environment at this Atoll was found to be in a pristine condition.

The team thinks that Rongelap Atoll is potentially seeding Bikini’s recovery, because it is the second largest atoll in the world with a huge amount of coral reef diversity and biomass and lies upstream from Bikini.

Zoe says that ironically, thanks to the bombs, Bikini Atoll represents a priceless laboratory showing how in the absence of ongoing stress, some corals have the capacity to recover from vast upheavals, which may contain valuable lessons for the management of reefs in other parts of the world including Australia.

“Apart from occasional forays of illegal shark, tuna and Napoleon Wrasse fishing, the reef is almost completely undisturbed to this day. There are very few local inhabitants and the divers who visit dive on shipwrecks, like the USS Saratoga, and not on the reef” says Maria.”

Because of its incredible history and current undisturbed character Bikini Atoll is now part of a larger project to have northern Marshall Island Atolls World Heritage listed. The expedition served to illustrate the tragic history of the Bikinian people is not entirely reflected below the surface because the reefs of Bikini are recovering to present themselves as havens of abundance to the marine life of the Northern Pacific Ocean.

The team’s report on Bikini corals surviving atom bombs appears in Elsevier’s Marine Pollution Bulletin No. 56, March 2008 page 5-3-1-515.

More information:
Zoe Richards, CoECRS and JCU, +61 (0)7 4781 4321 or mobile 0450 160 858
David Miller, CoECRS and JCU, 07 4781 4473
Maria Beger, AEDA at UQ and CoECRS, +61 (0)3 9370 6680
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, + 61(0)7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 (0)7 4781 4822
Jan King, UQ Communications Manager, +61 (0)7 3365 1120, 0413 601 248

Zoe Richards | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.coralcoe.org.au
http://www.jcu.edu.au

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>