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 | 10-06-2022


Oceans Day – 1,600,000 tons of munition are rotting away in North and Baltic Sea

Why dedicated action is needed in the area of ​​bomb disposal management in oceans

As economic partner of the German Ocean Decade Committee, protecting the oceans is important to us.

Today is Oceans Day and a week ago today, as part of the Ocean Decade Laboratories Satellite Activity "A Productive Ocean," we discussed the opportunities the oceans offer us, but also the dangers we expose them to. A superficially invisible but serious threat is posed by the 1,600,000 tons of war munition on our doorstep in the North and Baltic Sea. If you cannot grasp this figure, imagine a 2500 km long freight train loaded with munition.

The explosives are threatening the economy by delaying construction of offshore wind farms due to munitions detection.
It endangers animals and humans when the metal shells of the munition rust and the TNT is released. The Kolberger Heide munition dumping area, for example, is located directly off the coast of Kiel. This restricted area hosts around 35,000 tons of sea mines and torpedoes in no more than twelve meters of water and within sight of the beach. As part of the Daimon (Decision Aid for Marine Munitions) research project, an international team of scientists was able to prove that toxic substances escape from the munitions bodies and are absorbed by resident organisms. Traces were i. a. found in mussels and fish. Mussels, for example, accumulated decomposition products of the explosive TNT. The highly toxic substances damage the genetic material, which can lead to tumors. The dab, a popular edible fish from the plaice family, has more liver tumors in the Kolberger Heide munition dumping area than anywhere else.

Leave, blow up or salvage?

If the munition is left lying around, it is accepted that the substances will escape and poison the ecosystem.
If the munition is salvaged, there is a risk that the porous metal bodies will shatter or explode uncontrollably.
If the munitions is blown up without further noise protection measures, the sea creatures – especially the noise-sensitive porpoises – are severely affected. In 2019, 180 porpoise carcasses were found on the German Baltic Sea coast after munitions detonations off Rügen. With an assumed population of only 500 animals left in the central Baltic Sea, this loss weighs heavily.

What it takes for good bomb disposal management:

  • Protective measures for animals (so-called bubble curtains – hose ring with bubbling air bubbles around the munition body, which is intended to significantly reduce the spread of the shock waves – or the emission of acoustic disturbances only provide a limited remedy)
  • Less costly and time consuming salvage / disposal methods
  • Collaboration between all stakeholders

The so called Basta (Boost Applied munition detection through Smart data inTegration and AI workflows) project of the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel devoted itself to the second. Terrains are to be searched systematically with a high-resolution 3D echo sounder and underwater vehicles. The collected data is fed into a database together with historical information and evaluated with the help of artificial intelligence.