Eighty years ago, World War II was raging and the Nazi regime was expanding across Europe. On Feb. 12, 1942, however, British troops scored a major victory by bombing a pivotal ship in the German fleet and sending it to the bottom of the North Sea.
While this was a reason for Allied forces to celebrate at the time, the shipwreck has come back to haunt the surrounding environment.
Experts investigate the impact
A study spearheaded by researchers at Ghent University sought to explore the depths of the sea and determine what effect, if any, sunken ships were having on the region.
Study author Josefien Van Landuyt explained: “We wanted to see if old shipwrecks in our part of the sea … were still shaping the local microbial communities and if they were still affecting the surrounding sediment.”
With an array of materials used to construct ships throughout history, experts want to understand the long-term impact of allowing them to dissolve and disintegrate underwater. When it comes to the aforementioned Nazi ship, researchers decided to take a variety of samples for the study.
Here’s what they found
Among the materials found in the ship were several heavy metals and potentially harmful chemicals — including those used to create explosive devices. The study also led to the discovery of gasoline, arsenic, and coal aboard the vessel.
While it is difficult to determine the extent of the damage potentially caused by exposure to such compounds, researchers were able to confirm that the waters surrounding the shipwreck showed an elevated concentration of nickel, copper, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons than the sea in general.
With thousands of destroyed ships littering the bottom of the North Sea, the recent study concluded that “their advancing age might increase the environmental risk due to corrosion.”