Radioactive carbon released from 20th-century nuclear bomb tests has reached the deepest parts of the ocean and made its way into the food chain, researchers have discovered.
Traces of this "bomb carbon" was found within the muscle tissues of crustaceans living in some of the deepest ocean trenches, a new study in AGU's journal Geophysical Research Letters found.
These creatures have been feeding off organic matter from organisms living at the ocean surface that have absorbed this radioactive carbon into the molecular makeup of their bodies. And it has been this way since the late 1950s and 1960s, when thermonuclear weapons tests were being conducted. Neutrons released from the bombs at the time doubled the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere when they reacted with nitrogen in the air.
The levels of "bomb carbon" peaked in the mid-1960s but when the nuclear testing was stopped, the levels began to drop. However, the radioactive carbon then fell from the atmosphere into the oceans, where it has been absorbed into the molecules within the cells of marine organisms. The study's authors said their findings highlighted just how quickly human pollution enters the food web and makes its way to the deepest parts of the ocean.
"Although the oceanic circulation takes hundreds of years to bring water containing bomb [carbon] to the deepest trench, the food chain achieves this much faster," said Ning Wang, a geochemist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Guangzhou, China, and lead author of the new study.
Weidong Sun, a geochemist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Guangzhou and co-author of the new study, agreed.
"There's a very strong interaction between the surface and the bottom, in terms of biologic systems, and human activities can affect the biosystems even down to 11,000 meters, so we need to be careful about our future behaviors."
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