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World War II-era munitions found at the bottom of the ocean off California coast

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Scientists have found World War II-era military weapons 3,000 feet beneath the waves off Los Angeles.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Eric Terrill of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego helped lead a team mapping the ocean floor in the San Pedro Basin.

ERIC TERRILL: There was actually four different types of munitions. We found a type of pyrotechnic called a smoke float. This is essentially set up a smokescreen for ships to evade the enemy. And then we found two different types of depth charges. These are the type of munitions that are dumped over the side of a ship to essentially damage enemy submarines.

INSKEEP: Wow. They're just sitting there. Now, when they discovered these weapons, researchers were expecting to map something else - a debris field of chemical waste, traces of the insecticide DDT.

TERRILL: Early in the history of our country, we thought the oceans made a perfect dumping ground. With the environmental revolution in the '70s, I think we quickly realized that this was probably not such a great idea, even if it was out of sight, out of mind.

INSKEEP: Dumping munitions in the water was also common during and after World War II. Today, researchers are studying how all that ocean waste affects our food chain.

MARTIN: Sophia Merrifield is another Scripps oceanographer who co-led the mapping assignment. She says there is still a lot more mapping to do.

SOPHIA MERRIFIELD: Just understanding what the human footprint was in the ocean, going back historically, and then understanding what the impact of those dumping activities are on the marine food web presently, I think is a really important societal effort.

INSKEEP: Now, more than 300 hours of high-resolution images may help to map those effects. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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