THE POETRY OF SCIENCE – EPISODE 7: Contaminated Land

Recent scientific research has found that radiation levels in parts of the central Pacific Ocean, where the United States conducted nuclear tests during the Cold War, are up to 1,000 times higher than in samples from areas affected by the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. This episode explores what this means for the islanders. 

Read this episode’s science poem

Ancient submerged volcanoe
Rise up from the ocean floor,
Their tips littering the landscape
As tremendous shadows of the past
Cast a barely visible film of filth
Across this false Pacific paradise.
Where Spanish conquistadors
Once prowled the dunes,
Scintillators now sweep across the sands,
Combing beaches for dirty treasures
That can no longer lie buried.
Pantry islands not suitable for
Habitation lie in wait;
Their rotten fruit a siren’s call
To scattered islanders who cross
Impossible craters and
Invisible barriers of radiological taboo.
Satellites, statistics, and empirical semivariograms
Are calibrated against international
Safety standards for radiation exposure;
Each data point weighed against
An avalanche of history and regret.
Scatter plots and stick charts
Unshrouding mysteries that
Malformed coconuts and
Irradiated pandanus have long known:
That this contaminated land
Will not ever be a home.

By Dr Sam Illingworth

External Resources

Read the scientific study that inspired it here.

The Poetry of Science blog.

The original episode appeared here.

Go back to The Poetry of Science

Featured image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Christopher Johnson

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