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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Google Doodle For Saruhashi Katsuko

Katsuko Saruhashi’s 98th birthday
What we have here is a Google Doodle from March 22, 2018 depicting Saruhashi Katsuko (surname first), a Japanese geochemist who made some of the first measurements of carbon dioxide levels in seawater and subsequently showed the evidence in seawater and the atmosphere of the dangers of radioactive fallout.

Born on March 22, 1920 in Tokyo, Saruhashi graduated from the Imperial Women's College of Science (predecessor of Toho University) in 1943 before joining the Meteorological Research Institute (part of the Central Meteorological Observatory - now known as the Japan Meteorological Agency), and worked in its Geochemical Laboratory.

In 1950, she started studying CO2 levels in seawater. At that time, CO2 levels were not recognized as important, and as such he had to create her own methods to measure them.

She earned her doctorate in chemistry in 1957 from the University of Tokyo, becoming the first woman to do so.

After the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests in 1954 involving geothermal hydrogen bombs, the Japanese government asked the Geochemical Laboratory to analyze and monitor radioactivity in the seawater and in rainfall.

The Bikini Atoll is an atoll in the Marshall Islands which consists of 23 islands totaling 3.4 square miles surrounding a 229.4-square-mile (594.1 square kilometer) central lagoon.

A Japanese fishing trawler had inadvertently found itself downwind from a hydrogen bomb test, and as it turns out, its occupants became ill from the radioactive elements in the air. You can read about that sordid tale HERE in a blog I wrote just over four years ago.

The nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll program involved 23 nuclear devices detonated by the United States between 1946 and 1958 at seven test sites on the reef (atoll) itself, on the sea, in the air and underwater.

During the second series of tests in 1954, code-named Operation Castle. The first detonation known as Castle Bravo (shouldn't it have been called Castle Alpha?), was a new design utilizing a dry fuel thermonuclear hydrogen bomb.

It was detonated at dawn on March 1, 1954. Scientists miscalculated (don't you hate when scientists miscalculate?) and the 15 megaton (Mt) nuclear explosion far exceeded the expected yield of 4 to 8 Mt, and was about 1,000 times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
The Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test on March 1, 1954. Nothing to see here, folks. Nothing to see here.
The scientists and military authorities were shocked by the size of the explosion and many of the instruments they had put in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the device were destroyed.

Anyhow, Saruhashi determined that it took 1-1/2 years for the radioactivity from the Bikini Atoll tests to reach Japan via the seawater.

By 1964, the radioactivity levels from those same tests showed that the western and eastern North Pacific ocean water had mixed completely, and by 1969, the traces of radioactivity had spread throughout the Pacific.

This was some of the first research showing how the effects of fallout can spread across the entire world, and not just affect the immediate area.

Now... what I don't know is just what they mean by traces of radioactivity. Obviously Saruhashi and her team were searching for traces of a particular type of radioactivity, rather than the common stuff that falls upon us everyday... but just what does "trace" imply.

Obviously it was not considered a danger to human or even marine health... er, that is long after it had mixed in with the waters for several years diluting its potency. But... what would be interesting to determine is how long did it take for the waters in the immediate area of the hydrogen bomb test to return to a level of "safety".

The U.S. military authorities and scientists had promised the Bikini Atoll's native residents that they would be able to return home after the nuclear tests. As such, a majority of the island's family heads agreed to leave the island, and most of the residents were moved to the Rongerik Atoll and later to Kili Island. But, both locations proved unsuitable to sustaining life, resulting in starvation and requiring the residents to receive ongoing aid.

The tests continued at the Bikini Atolls, with Redwing in 1956, and Hardtack in 1958... and despite the fact that the scientists and military had promised they could return to their island home once the tests had concluded (did they know it was going to be that many tears?), the constant bombardment from the hydrogen bomb testing made the entire area unfit for habitation, as the soil and water was far too high with radioactivity

The United States later paid the islanders and their descendants $125 million in compensation for damage caused by the nuclear testing program and their displacement from their home island, which is great... because well... I'm not sure why.

Apparently as of 2014, the Bikini Atolls has been declared "technically" possible for people to live there again.

So... they can go back, right? The problem of course is that they have spent what... nearly 70 years off the island? It's no longer their home. And what would they do there? Would you want to go back or, as the case for the majority is, go there for the first time ever to reclaim your heritage?

Despite that 2014 "technically"-speaking report that said people could go back and live, it didn't say for how long.

A 2016 report showed that radiation levels were at 639 mrem yr−1 (mrem = millirem, and a rem is short for "roentgen equivalent man", a measurement of radiation).

The  established safety standard threshold for habitation of 100 mrem yr−1.

Well... if these hardy Bikini Atollinders (Atollians?) can handle the heat, they would find, according to a 2017 Stanford University study, plenty of marine life in the crater of the Bikini Atoll.

The report did not mention any three-eyed fish.

 The islands continue to be uninhabited.

Later, in the 1970s and 80s, she turned her attention to studying acid rain and its effects.

Saruhashi earned quite few awards and distinctions throughout her scientific career:
  • 1958 - established the Society of Japanese Women Scientists to promote women in the sciences and contribute to world peace;
  • 1979 - named executive director of the Geochemical Laboratory;
  • 1980 - first woman elected to the Science Council of Japan;
  • 1981 - won the Avon Special Prize for Women, for researching peaceful uses of nuclear power and raising the status of women scientists;
  • 1981 - established the Saruhashi Prize, given yearly to a female scientist who serves as a role model for younger women scientists;
  • 1985 - first woman to win the Miyake Prize for geochemistry;
  • 1993 - won the Tanaka Prize from the Society of Sea Water Sciences.
Saruhashi was also an honorary member of the Geochemical Society of Japan and the Oceanographical Society of Japan.
Saruhashi Katsuko

She died on September 29, 2007 of pneumonia at her home in Tokyo, at the age of 87.

The Google Doodle was created in honor of what would have been her 98th birthday.

Andrew Joseph

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