WWII Bombing Damaged Earth’s Atmosphere: Study

Unknown/Deutsches BundesarchivWikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The deadliest conflict in human history may have affected Earth’s upper atmosphere, according to a study released Tuesday.

Shock waves from allied bombing raids over Germany were powerful enough to reach the edge of space, British researchers have found. The findings were published in the European Geosciences Union journal Annales Geophysicae and suggested bombing raids at the height of World War II appeared to have left their mark on the atmosphere.

Specifically, the researchers found evidence to suggest the shock waves from allied bombs disrupted the ionosphere, a layer of electrified atmosphere that almost stretches to the edge of space.

The ionosphere plays an important role in carrying long-distance radio waves, and researchers to speculate disruption caused by ground bombing could have interfered with global communication during the war.

“It is astonishing to see how the ripples caused by man-made explosions can affect the edge of space,” said lead researcher Chris Scott.

“Each raid released the energy of at least 300 lightning strikes. The sheer power involved has allowed us to quantify how events on the Earth’s surface can also affect the ionosphere,” he explained.

The researchers uncovered evidence of damage to the atmosphere by analyzing data collected by the U.K.’s Radio Research Center in Slough between 1943-45. They then fired radio pulses deep into the ionosphere, where the researchers found unexpected variation in electron concentration.

According to the researchers, this may have been caused by heat waves from repeated bomb blasts.

While the damage isn’t permanent, the researchers noted their findings could explain some of the war’s lasting mysteries. According to study co-author Patrick Major, the disruptions to the upper atmosphere show why allied aircraft were often damaged by their own bombs, even when flying at high altitudes.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the full force of those shockwaves was notorious.

“Residents under the bombs would routinely recall being thrown through the air by the pressure waves of air mines exploding, and window casements and doors would be blown off their hinges,” he said, according to CNN.

“The unprecedented power of these attacks has proved useful for scientists to gauge the impact such events can have hundreds of kilometers above the Earth, in addition to the devastation they caused on the ground,” he said.

The study itself focused on the allied bombing of German cities between 1943-45. Representing the peak of allied bombing in Europe, the period included the widespread but controversial use of firebombing on densely populated cities. The period included the 1943 bombing of Hamburg and Dresden in 1945. The raids on Hamburg killed an estimated 42,000 civilians, while the bombing of Dresden remains controversial today.

“As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches,” wrote Victor Gregg, a prisoner of war held in Dresden during the bombardment.

Writing for The Guardian, he described the bombing as a “war crime.”

“Dresden had no defenses, no anti-aircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing,” he wrote.