Scientists Discover a Shell of a Way to Track Nuclear Fallout

Sep 5, 2023

US Nuclear Test Sites

They’re not teens. They haven’t mutated. And they’re not ninjas (as far as we know). But, four turtles are making headlines in the scientific community. That's because radioactive particles have been found in their shells.

Researchers have shown that turtle shells provide records of nuclear tests done long ago. That's according to a recent study published in the journal Nexus. Experts analyzed the scutes, or shell sections, of four turtles. The samples came from southwest Utah, South Carolina, Tennessee, and the Marshall Islands. The scutes were all taken from areas near where nuclear weapons had been tested.

In each case, the turtles’ shells trapped radioactive particles. They provide “a time-stamped record of contamination,” according to the report.

For some of the shells, the samples were proof that nuclear fallout had covered the area near bomb test sites. For others, it suggested that the effects of nuclear tests lingered long after. The Marshall Island turtle showed the long term effects. It was likely born 20 years after nuclear testing there ended. Even so, it captured nuclear particles in its growing shell.

The study concludes that turtles are great sources of data about nuclear test sites over the long term. Experts hope the study of turtle shells can give them a clearer picture of how nuclear blasts affect an ecosystem. They also hope to learn how nuclear fallout spreads. 

Reflect: What are some examples of how studying nature can provide valuable insights into the effects of human actions on the environment?

If students wanted to learn about where in the US nuclear testing sites are located, they should reference _______. (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. the article only
b. the infographic only
c. the article and the infographic
d. neither the article nor the infographic
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