Nuclear tests have obvious effects on life and habitats by physical destructions and irridiations. This has been widespread between the 50s and 80s, mostly from the USA (1054 tests incl. 835 underwater), Soviet Union (715 tests) and France (210 tests) (ref).

Here, I'm interested in the impact of the progated sound wave of underwater nuclear explosions at long-range, for instance on sea mammals. Is there any study on this?


  • What are their responses to such deflagration (e.g. migrations)?
  • What is the rough estimate of the distance (e.g. 1km or 10km or 100km etc) from which the explosion from a typical nuclear test in a simple environment (no island, constant depth, etc) destroy/harm the hearing apparatus of sea mammals?
  • $\begingroup$ It is very difficult to imagine that marine mammals will not suffer from serious effects out to more than 100 km from such tests if in deep water. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2022 at 8:01

2 Answers 2


Not sure, if that is a useful exercise.

Nuclear explosions are measured in tens of Megatons TNT. At that level, water evaporates, sound propagation in highly nonlinear, the resulting shockwave could have travelled long distances, being refracted multiple times around the islands.

To answer your questions, you properly will hit a lot of walls of national security and need-to-know issues.

Edit: You may look up Richardson Marina Mammals and Noise book for some ideas on impact of traditional explosions. If you wanted to speculate, then find and extrapolate

  • 0.1 kg TNT safe range: 0.1 km
  • 1 ton TNT safe range: 1 km
  • -> 10 Megaton TNT save range: 10 km (not in graph, so blind extrapolation)

As I said before, explosions follow highly nonlinear acoustics so such graphs are highly misleading


Check out this study by Yamato et al 2016 which documents fractured ear bones (tympanic bullae) in whales. They use museum specimens to explore the ability of baleen whales and odontocetes to heal from these injuries. The authors consider many potential causes, and ultimately suggest that intense pressure waves from explosions or airguns lead to the injuries. I suspect that nuclear explosions or volcanic eruptions could also do damage like this. Another interesting finding was that pregnant and lactating females may be more vulnerable to these types of injuries, which has implications for population dynamics.


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