Why is 40,000 litres of popcorn being dumped in the Baltic Sea?

The surface of the Baltic Sea is about to get turned into something akin to the floor of a movie theatre, as 32 countries prepare for a catastrophic scenario.

Why is 40,000 litres of popcorn being dumped in the Baltic Sea?
Could I have a large bucket of 40,000 litres of popcorn to go with my oil spill simulation, please? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Some 550 people, 32 countries, 20 ships and aircraft are set to take part in a huge international exercise called Balex Delta next week, simulating a major oil spill off the coast of Karlskrona in southern Sweden.

One of their tasks will consist of collecting 40,000 litres of popcorn dumped into the sea in less than 36 hours.

As surprising a stunt as it may sound, it is not a new thing.

Popcorn has in fact been used for years to replace oil leaks in simulations, because it floats well, is environmentally friendly, and makes for good fish food should the rescue teams fail to retrieve it all.

Balex Delta organizers explained that the scenario “will simulate an oil spill of a magnitude unable to be handled by Sweden alone. We therefore will have to ask for international support”.

“Oil doesn't care about nations' borders. International cooperation is crucial,” said Therese Larsson, the Swedish coastguard's project manager of Balex Delta, one of the biggest environmental rescue exercises in the world.

Most ships entering and leaving the Baltic Sea have to pass Skåne and Blekinge counties in southern Sweden, two areas which as a result are at high risk of being reached by an oil leak.

“It is therefore crucial that the local, regional and national authorities are prepared to handle this kind of accident in the best way possible through risk assessments, planning and training,” wrote Lars Persson from the Skåne county administrative board in a blog entry explaining the details of the exercise.

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