Operation Crossroads nuclear test Bikini Atoll
A view of “Baker shot,” part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear test conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

The escalating tension between the United States and the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II, as the two countries stockpiled nuclear weapons and detonated hundreds of test bombs in the atmosphere, had an unexpected side effect: It fueled atmospheric research to an unprecedented degree.

In this inaugural episode of Third Pod from the Sun’s Centennial series, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Air Resources Laboratory discuss how scientists’ understanding of Earth’s atmosphere changed as a result of the Cold War. Listen to one meteorologist describe witnessing nuclear bomb tests on a remote Pacific island and hear how scientists used their growing knowledge of the atmosphere to pinpoint the source of radioactivity from Chernobyl, the most disastrous nuclear power plant accident in history. By developing tools to predict where nuclear fallout would go, scientists learned for the first time how air behaves in Earth’s upper atmosphere and how pollution, volcanic ash, and fallout travel around the globe.

That the Cold War was a catalyst for atmospheric research is one of many examples of how history has influenced science and how science has shaped the course of history. Third Pod, AGU’s podcast that explores the weird, cool, quirky, fun, and exciting aspects of doing research most people never hear about, will look back at these stories all year long in the Centennial series.

—Lauren Lipuma (@Tenacious_She), Contributing Writer


Lipuma, L. (2019), Podcast: How the Cold War drove atmospheric science, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO114067. Published on 16 January 2019.

Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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