How would oxygen depletion WMD work

North korea supposedly has a WMD that can deplete oxygen in the surrounding area of the blast cite. So this could possibly lead to suffocation for a large radius surrounding the blast site.

Three are unconfirmed reports of bombs capable of depleting oxygen within a limited area upon explosion (most likely fuel-air explosives), in North Korea’s weapons inventory.

Is a weapon like this possible, or are there too many mols of oxygen for this to really be feasable? Even if it has chemicals on it that bind to oxygen and make it worthless for respiration, even a few tons would still only negate a few tons of oxygen

1 cubic foot of air is 0.0807 lbs and 21% oxygen, so 0.017 pounds of oxygen per cubic foot. A square mile one foot deep would be 28 million cubic feet. So even that would require 474 tons of oxygen to be neutralized, and that is assuming a one foot deep area. The real area would need to be much deeper, tens of feet. Warheads are only a few tons.

is this a possible WMD or is there some other way that it would neutralize oxygen?

'Scuse me having a WAG, but wouldn’t any explosive with an incendiary function deplete the oxygen in the surrounding area through combustion? I think I’ve heard (maybe only in Slaughterhouse Five…) that this occurred during the WWII Dresden fire-bombing raids - victims dying not of blast/burns, but of plain asphyxiation?

Sounds like a Dorothy Dixer, but i’ll bite.

From **Wesleys **source:
“Three are unconfirmed reports of bombs capable of depleting oxygen within a limited area upon explosion (most likely fuel-air explosives), in North Korea’s weapons inventory.”

Just like the weapons of mass destruction that cause asphyxiation, which the USA army used against Iraqi soldiers during the gulf war.


“Perhaps the most horrifying of all bombs was the Fuel Air Explosives (FAE) which were used to destroy minefields and bunkers in Iraq and Kuwait. These firebombs were directly used against Iraqi soldiers, although military spokesmen and press reports have consistently tried to downplay their role. Perhaps this is only because press reports were too descriptive before the war when the Pentagon was leaking stories about possible Iraqi use of FAEs, along with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons - none of which ever appeared on the Iraqi side. The FAE is composed of an ethelene oxide fuel which forms an aerosol cloud or mist on impact. The cloud is then detonated, forming very high overpressures and a blast or shock wave that destroys anything within an area of about 50,000 square feet (for a 2,000 pound bomb). The U.S. also used “daisy cutters” or the BLU-82, a 15,000 pound bomb containing GSX Gelled slurry explosives. This, too, is a concussion type bomb which military spokesmen and the U.S. press said was used to detonate pressure sensitive mines. The mines, of course, surrounded Iraqi troop deployments and the concussive force of the bomb would surely also rupture internal organs or ear-drums of Iraqi soldiers pinned down in their bunkers. This is not even to mention incineration and asphyxiation, as the fire storm of the bomb sucks all of the oxygen out of the area.”

Conventional explosives contain their own oxygen in their chemical makeup. They do NOT consume atmospheric oxygen; there isn’t enough of it available fast enough to support explosion vice combustion.

Fires (& firestorms) consume oxygen. But the lack of oxygen only exists in the exhaust of the fire, ie the smoke. If you’re in there, then yes, you’ll experience a lack of oxygen.

But fires also also create tremendous heat & debris, also entrained in the smoke. You’ll have a lot more problems a lot sooner with those.
Color me very skeptical of a weapon whose primary effect is oxygen depletion. But it does sound scary, which is really NK’s primary purpose on Earth.

I heard that they would send in a bomb containing bland-tastic singer James Blunt. Upon detonation, he’d pop out and start playing a concert, and the resulting lack of atmosphere would cause death and misery over an enormous radius.

Sound like what Dr. Sarazawa used to get rid of the Big Lizard in the original Gojira.

What about CO2? If enough CO2 could be released quickly enough, couldn’t that “drown” anyone in the area, expecially in a canyon, valley, or other similar area? I’m thinking of the Lake Nyos disaster in Africa, in which suddenly upwelling masses of CO2 suffocated every person and animal living near the lake.

Of course I realize that this wouldn’t be oxygen “depletion” as such, nor do I know how it would be possible to release such a volume of CO2 so quickly.

To follow up on antechinus post, FAEs are also often referred to as thermobaric weapons, if you want to google up some more. Asphyxiation is not really the main worry, since they are designed to generate blast and overpressure, with a side-helping of intense heat, but if you survived those with your lungs intact you might find it difficult to breathe the oxygen-depleted air.

Thermobarics get weapon geeks all excited because they basically have similar tactical effects to a mini-nuke, but without the fallout (political or physical) or need for super-duper engineering.

Wouldn’t the sudden loss of oxygen in a small area create a mini-vacuum that the surrounding air would rush in to fill? This seems about as plausible as asphyxiating some fish by tossing a huge boulder into a lake to create an area that is momentarily devoid of water.

I’m pretty sure thermobarics are partly used for their oxygen-depleting effects. I remember commentary to that effect when the U.S. was hunting Bin Laden shortly after 9/11. Thermobarics could be dropped on caves, and if the initial blast effect didn’t kill someone who was deep down in the cave, oxygen starvation would get them.

not if the oxygen is replaced by CO2, and besides O2 only makes up 21% of the atmosphere, IIR my junior high science correctly.

Well, just a quick thought on this. Where is the CO2 coming from - if you are just dropping a big old cylinder of CO2 (which sounds pretty inefficient), then the amount of area that you are going to cover with a several-thousand-pound bomb is pathetically small - I can’t imagine displacing enough O2 to suffocate an area much larger than a fraction of an acre (based upon a quick dimensional-analysis-type calculation). If you are dropping carbon (say a pile of charcoal briquets), with which to combust in the presence of atmospheric O2, then I have to believe that you still are better off to drop a conventional bomb and let the blast pressure do your dirty work.

I wasn’t totally clear, but it seemed that O2 depletion was a secondary damage mechanism for the fuel/air explosives - it sounded like they did their primary damage through incineration.

Thermo - heat
Baric - Pressure
They generate a massive blast/pressure wave which is very handy for collapsing buildings, and also will travel considerable distances down caves/tunnels etc., in addition to a spectacular fireball. Think coal-dust explosion or similar.

This paper seems a trifle confused about chemistry (lack of oxygen does not cause overpressure) but otherwise seems convincing. A pressure wave of approx 30 kg/cm2 at a temperature of 2500 centigrade is going to make a lack of oxygen the least of your worries, although it would be no laughing matter either, particularly if you had only restricted inflow of fresh air (e.g. inside a cave, bunker or the rubble of a building collapsed by the initial explosion). In the open I imagine the deoxygenated air would disperse reasonably quickly as the fireball would rise and draw in fresh air.