Nuclear war would wreck climate say scientists

Even a small, regional nuclear war would cause lasting damage to the climate, according to researchers in the USA.

Like volcanic erruptions, nuclear blasts spew huge quantities of dust into the upper atmosphere

Like volcanic erruptions, nuclear blasts spew huge quantities of dust into the upper atmosphere

An exchange of around one hundred 15 kiloton warheads, each the same size of the Hiroshima bomb, could cause a dip in global temperatures.

A conflict of this scale would use only 0.03% of existing nuclear weapons.

The warheads in the arsenals of acknowledged nuclear powers tend to be many, many times more destructive than those dropped on Japan at the close of the Second World War.

Israel has the currently unique status of 'nuclear ambiguity' in the global community, which in a nutshell means it is widely accepted that it has a nuclear capability but its deterrent is not sanctioned or monitored by any international treaty.

The research has been conducted in the context of a world where several states, including North Korea and Iran, are on the brink of joining the nuclear club - a club whose membership has remained more of less unchanged for several decades.

The modelling has been carried out by academics from four American institutions, UCLA, Rutgers University, New Jersey, and the University of Colorado at Boulder and they count the professor who coined the term 'nuclear winter' among their number, Richard Turco.

In their 100-bomb regional war scenario, the scientists found there would likely be more deaths than during the entire Second World War and climatic effects which would last for over a decade, impacting on almost everyone in the world.

Using existing data from volcanic eruptions and forest fires, they calculated that the soot and dust thrown up by the firestorms which would follow a nuclear attack would cause significant global cooling, with temperate zones in the US and Eurasia seeing a drop in temperature of several degrees Celsius.

This would have serious implications for agriculture.

A nuclear war would also cause serious damage to Earth's ozone shield, a fact that has been known since the first crude nuclear modelling in the 1980s but the latest figures suggest this effect would be over 100 times worse than previously believed.

The research does not detail the long-term effect of radioactive contamination from fallout.

The academics conclude, however, that the confluence of nuclear proliferation, political instability and urban demographics forms perhaps the greatest danger to the stability of human society since the dawn of civilization.

The two papers published by the scientists are Atmospheric Effects and Societal Consequences of Regional Scale Nuclear Conflicts and Acts of Individual Terrorism and Climatic Consequences of Regional Nuclear Conflicts.

Both can be found on the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions journal website.

Sam Bond


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