Military conflicts are common for humanity. But no one ever considers the impact of military actions on the environment. The soil is the fundamental resource of humankind but its potential progressively reduced by human activities, including warfare. Besides multiple deaths and destruction of nature, warfare has a devastating effect on soil and its properties. The disturbances of soil that are induced by military activities can be divided into three types: physical, chemical, and biological.
Modern warfare can’t stand without the construction of defensive infrastructure, including trenches, tunnels and other facilities. Such activity leads to the sealing of the soil and change of its structure. Moreover, military actions include maneuvering of heavy wheeled vehicles, troops and machinery that cause compaction of the ground. Besides, bombs and shells cause cratering. The explosion results in the removal of soil.
Artillery fire adversely affects the soil environment. Deep craters that sometimes reach water table create hydric conditions, which make this soil unsuitable for vegetation and colonization. Topsoil is a critical component of the ground since it is enriched with organic matters that reduce oil density and ensure water infiltration. Unfortunately, military activities that are associated with excavation works and soil disturbances destroy this layer and make it unsuitable for planting.
Nuclear tests have the most detrimental effect on soil since they not only change its morphology and make it dead for many years but also cause the accumulation of radioactive elements (NCBI, 2014). Radionuclides penetrate the ground with rainfall water. This fact poses a threat to human health due to soil-to-plant transfer.
Today, modern armies use different types of chemicals, including oil, heavy metals, dioxins and radioactive elements. In wartime, some of these chemicals are released in large amounts and have a dramatic effect on soil properties. These chemicals lead to land degradation and reduce yield capacity. Soil contamination is a primary source of various health issues since chemical pollutants tend to accumulate in plants and get into the human organism with food. Long term contact with such soil may cause chronic health problems and congenital diseases.
Widespread contamination of soil may distort ecological balance. Most plants are unable to adapt to changes in chemical composition of the ground. Different useful bacteria and fungi begin to decline under the effect of pollutants. This fact creates an additional problem such as soil erosion. The effect of soil erosion goes beyond the loss of fertile lands. It increases pollution and sedimentation in water sources and declines in the population of many species of animals. Moreover, degraded soil can’t hold water, which results in flooding (World Wild Fund, 2016). Soil erosion inevitably leads to deforestation and desert expansion.
Different chemicals such as dioxins penetrate the soil and may accumulate in plants, animals and fish (World Health Organization, 2016). Once dioxin gets into the ground, it decays for an extended period in the soil under normal environmental conditions. This fact indicates that potential hazard of this chemical may be very persistent.
Another issue relates to the use of herbicides. For the first time, herbicides were used as the chemical weapon in Vietnam. This chemical is very hazardous for vegetation and food crops. Moreover, long-exposure of herbicides may have a negative effect on human health. Therefore, these chemicals may cause permanent damage to the environment and entire ecosystem.
Today, it is hard to image any combat operations and military actions without the use of the fuel. The oil is used almost on all military equipment and machines. Oil spills are always associated with negative circumstances that impact not only soil but also the entire environment. Oil contamination dramatically reduces pH level of the soil and affects its physical and chemical properties. All these facts cause deterioration of soil condition and reduce its fertility.
Some counties consider biological weapon as effective mean of war. The biological weapon is seen as a weapon of mass destruction. This weapon is always effective due to its destructive potential. The biological weapon is associated with such agents as anthrax and botulin. Both these agents have the biological origin and may be lethal for animals and humans.
Anthrax is considered to be effective biological weapon since it can survive in dry soil for a long time. People and animals can catch this infection through skin contact or inhalation. Once Anthrax spores get in tissue, bacterial cells begin to multiply very quickly and get into the bloodstream (Thiel, 1999). These bacteria are very dangerous for human health and may lead to death without urgent medical care.
Botulin is a neurotoxic protein that may cause such lethal disease as botulism. This illness begins with weakness, trouble speaking, and feeling tired. Like Anthrax, this toxin can stay in the soil during the extended period. This biological weapon is very dangerous since botulin develops in plants which are used by people. The ability of these microorganisms to survive for decades make them extremely hazardous to the environment. The territories exposed to biological weapon remain abandoned for decades and are unsuitable for agricultural activity.
Military actions may have unpredictable consequences for the environment is general. Unfortunately, warfare and military training exercises inevitably lead to degradation of soil properties and worsen its biochemical characteristics. The use of different materials and chemicals aversively impact soil fertility and may make it unsuitable for further use. It may take decades to recover soil characteristics. Thus, various types of weapons adversely impact soil environment and considered as a major terraforming factor.
- NCBI. (2014). Nuclear Weapons Tests and Environmental Consequences: A Global Perspective.
- Thiel T. (1999). Anthrax: an agent of biological warfare. University of Missouri-St. Louis.
- World Wild Fund. (2016). Soil erosion and degradation
- World Health Organization. (2016). Dioxins and their effects on human health.