Skip to content Skip to navigation

What Bikini Atoll Looks Like Today

hands examining the underside of a crab
Photos: Dan Griffin
Nov 20 2017
Fellow, Research, Stanford

Nearly 60 years after the last of 23 nuclear explosions in its land, air and water, Bikini Atoll again looks like the idyllic Pacific paradise it was in 1946 — a bracelet of sandy, palm-covered islets encircling an azure lagoon. But it doesn’t take long to pick up on Bikini’s enduring eeriness, says Stanford biology professor Stephen Palumbi, who visited the remote atoll for a 10-day research trip featured in Big Pacific, a documentary that aired this summer on PBS.

At one point, Palumbi was boating around Bravo Crater, a mile-wide scar blasted into the lagoon by the most potent U.S. bomb ever detonated, when the navigation system began screaming a warning. The device thought they had run aground. The boat, Palumbi says, was in 160 feet of water.

It took a moment to realize the alarm wasn’t malfunctioning. The navigation system was simply relying on maps that haven’t been redrawn since before 1954, when a bomb 1,000 times more powerful than the one that dropped on Hiroshima vaporized three islands in the lagoon, including the one where the expedition crew was.

Researcher Elora López is a 2015 Stanford Graduate Fellow.