Underwater Ticking Timebomb

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army, In 1964, mustard gas canisters are pushed into the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey. Millions of pounds were dumped this way.

Following the web frenzy that followed our post on ocean dumping, Brian Ross and the Investigative Team at ABC News post on their blog The Blotter a followup piece. In shameless self promotion (hey I am trying to find a faculty job) a few quotes from myself occur in the piece. The good news…
Legislation on the books for this fiscal year requires that the secretary of defense issue a yearly report naming the location and quantity of the dumped military munitions in U.S. waters. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 also mandates sampling and water analysis be done around the disposal sites selected by the secretary. The size of the dump sites as well as the types and quantities of military munitions should also be identified.

The bad news…the dumping an estimated 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into U.S. waters part of that in an operation called “Cut Holes And Sink ‘Em”. Cal Baier-Anderson, of the Environmental Defense, has a brilliant comment in the piece…

“You can think these munitions are glorified metal containers, but they are corroding and rusting out over time,” …”When they’re (munitions) on the shoreline, they can be unstable. You don’t know what’s in them.”

So what potential problems arise…


1. This fun stuff washes ashore just in time for your family’s vacation to the beach
2. As commercial fishing continues to move offshore, fisherman potentially trawling munitions.
3. Leaking of canisters which causes local extinctions of deep-sea organisms including but not limited to fisheries.

What to do about all this? Who knows? The problem is that the barrels have been corroding on the seafloor for 40+ years. I cannot envision the logistics of retrieving barrels form several thousand meters and conducting it safely so that the ship’s deck crew has no exposure.

Dr. M (1624 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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5 comments on “Underwater Ticking Timebomb
  1. Great job! Very proud of you and how you have helped bring this very important issue to light. Maybe this will help with a faculty position, hope so.

  2. Excellent craig! About time you became a credible source in the mainstream media. They will have you on Larry King in no time. They might even bump off another interview with Michael Moore for you.

    Seriously though, it is definitely an honour this early in your career to be cited by a source far more read then any science journal. Good luck with the faculty search, I’ll forward any prospects your way. Then you can hire me as a postdoc in a year or two!

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