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Survey of supposed deep-sea chemical munitions dump off Southern California
Date:12/9/2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA Since World War II, US nautical charts have shown seven "chemical munitions dumping areas" along the Pacific Coast between San Francisco and the Mexican border. However, little or no information is available about the amount, location, or nature of the materials that were dumped at most of these sites. At this week's meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) describe a survey of one supposed deep‐water dump site off Southern California. The preliminary survey turned up trash and 55-gallon drums, but no chemical munitions. In addition to suggesting that not all marked sites contain chemical munitions, this study demonstrates that underwater robots can be used to survey such sites to identify areas of concern.

A total of 32 chemical munitions dumping areas are shown on nautical charts of United States waters. Seven of these lie off the California coast, between San Francisco and the Mexican border. Some of the marked areas off California are huge, encompassing almost 4,000 square kilometers of seafloor. Of the seven California sites, only the area off San Francisco has been studied in any detail.

This concerns MBARI chemical oceanographer Peter Brewer. If chemical munitions were dumped at these sites, they could pose a hazard to fishers and researchers studying the seafloor. Over the last 50 years, hundreds of fishermen in Japan, the Baltic Sea, and off the east coast of the United States have been injured by chemical munitions caught in their nets. On the other hand, Brewer suspects that some of the marked sites off California may not contain munitions at all. Other sites might contain munitions, but the areas of affected seafloor are likely to be much smaller than the areas shown on the charts.

With this in mind, Brewer used two different types of underwater robots to perform a preliminary survey of a marked dump site in th
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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