The Price Of Independence
home in the Pacific
by today’s standards
subjected to Bikini
left to limp home
embraced by elements
testament to exploration?
testament to recovery?
testament of war
The USS Independence was the first of a class of US destroyers converted to light aircraft carrier during the Second World War. After the war, it was used as a target vessel during Operation Crossroads, the July 1, 1946, atomic bomb test within the Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands, in the Pacific Ocean). Placed one-half mile from the detonation, the USS Independence was crippled, but survived the blast. Afterward, it was towed to San Francisco for evaluation of damage and radiation levels, as well as “decontamination.” Due to the rising cost of decontamination, USS Independence was towed out to sea and sunk in 2,700 feet of water, 30 miles off the coast of California, in what is now the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
The wreck was re-discovered in March 2015, and exploration and assessment is being conducted this week, via ROV Hercules, a remotely operated underwater vehicle tethered to E/V Nautilus, a research vessel, under the direction of Dr. Robert Ballard. Marine samples will be obtained and evaluated for levels of radiation. Due to the time elapsed since the ship was exposed, and the half-life of the radioactive elements from the blast, radiation levels are expected to be similar to non-exposed marine life.
Yesterday, I spent some time watching a live stream of the underwater exploration of the USS Independence. Seeing the wreck was breathtaking. Sponges, some of them several meters in length and diameter, covered the hull and equipment, such as anti-aircraft guns. A giant crab hid inside a goiter sponge that was more than a meter across.
Elevated from the bottom, the sponges filter feed on the nutrients floating in the currents. Unfortunately, it was easy to forget that the wreck’s placement resulted from the testing of a weapon of mass destruction.
The post-blast photo at the top of the page is from San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, via nautiluslive.org. The next two underwater photos are screenshots from the livestream at nautiluslive.org on August 22nd, and the next five are from a highlight video posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZLNKc84YA4). The map is from nautiluslive.org.