How Nuclear War Would Affect Earth Today

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the threat of nuclear war to the fore. But what impact would modern nuclear explosions have on the world today? A new study published today provides clear information on the global impact of nuclear war.

The study’s lead author, Cheryl Harrison, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at LSU, and her co-authors ran several computer simulations to investigate the impacts of regional and larger-scale nuclear warfare on land systems, given current nuclear warfare capabilities. Nine nations currently control more than 13,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In all the scenarios simulated by the researchers, the nuclear firestorms would release soot and smoke into the upper atmosphere, which would block out the Sun, leading to crop failures around the world. In the first month after the nuclear explosion, average global temperatures would plunge by about 13 degrees Fahrenheit, a greater temperature change than during the last Ice Age.

“It doesn’t matter who is bombing who. It can be India and Pakistan or NATO and Russia. Once the smoke is released into the upper atmosphere, it spreads globally and affects everyone” , said Harrison, who has a joint appointment at the LSU Center for Computing and Technology.

Ocean temperatures would drop rapidly and not return to their pre-war state even after the smoke cleared. As the planet cools, sea ice extends more than 6 million square miles and 6 feet deep in some basins blocking major ports including Beijing Port of Tianjin, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. Sea ice would spread to normally ice-free coastal regions, blocking navigation in the northern hemisphere, making it difficult to get food and supplies to some cities like Shanghai, where ships are not ready to go. face the sea ice.

The sudden drop in light and temperatures in the oceans, especially from the Arctic to the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, would kill seaweed, which is the base of the marine food web, essentially creating an ocean starvation. This would end most fishing and aquaculture activities.

Researchers simulated what would happen to Earth systems if the United States and Russia used 4,400 100-kiloton nuclear weapons to bomb cities and industrial areas, resulting in fires ejecting 150 teragrams, or more than 330 billion books, smoke and absorbing sunlight. black carbon in the upper atmosphere. They also simulated what would happen if India and Pakistan detonated around 500 100-kiloton nuclear weapons, releasing 5 to 47 teragrams, or 11 billion to 103 billion pounds, of smoke and soot, into the upper atmosphere. .

“Nuclear war has dire consequences for everyone. World leaders used our studies before as an impetus to end the nuclear arms race in the 1980s, and five years ago to adopt a treaty at the United Nations United to Ban Nuclear Weapons. We hope this new study will encourage more countries to ratify the ban treaty,” said co-author Alan Robock, professor emeritus in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. .

This study shows the global interdependence of Earth systems, especially in the face of disturbances, whether caused by volcanic eruptions, massive forest fires or war.

“The current war between Ukraine and Russia and the way it has affected gas prices really shows us how fragile our global economy and our supply chains are in the face of what can appear to be conflicts and disputes. regional disruptions,” Harrison said.

Volcanic eruptions also produce clouds of particles in the upper atmosphere. Throughout history, these eruptions have had similar negative impacts on the planet and civilization.

“We can avoid nuclear war, but volcanic eruptions will definitely happen again. We can’t do anything about it, so it’s important when we talk about resilience and the design of our society that we think about what we need to do. to prepare for inevitable climate shocks,” Harrison said. “We can and must, however, do everything we can to avoid nuclear war. The effects are too likely to be globally catastrophic.”

Oceans take longer to recover than land. In the larger US-Russian scenario, ocean recovery is likely to take decades at the surface and hundreds of years at depth, while Arctic sea ice changes are likely to last thousands of years and effectively constitute a “small nuclear ice age”. Marine ecosystems would be heavily disrupted both by the initial disturbance and in the new state of the ocean, leading to long-term global impacts on ecosystem services such as fisheries, the authors write.

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