Even a regional nuclear war could spark "unprecedented" global cooling and reduce rainfall for years, according to U.S. government computer models.
Widespread famine and disease would likely follow, experts speculate.
During the Cold War a nuclear exchange between superpowers—such as the one feared for years between the United States and the former Soviet Union—was predicted to cause a "nuclear winter."
In that scenario hundreds of nuclear explosions spark huge fires, whose smoke, dust, and ash blot out the sun for weeks amid a backdrop of dangerous radiation levels. Much of humanity eventually dies of starvation and disease.
Today, with the United States the only standing superpower, nuclear winter is little more than a nightmare. But nuclear war remains a very real threat—for instance, between developing-world nuclear powers, such as India and Pakistan.
To see what climate effects such a regional nuclear conflict might have, scientists from NASA and other institutions modeled a war involving a hundred Hiroshima-level bombs, each packing the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT—just 0.03 percent of the world's current nuclear arsenal. ...
The researchers predicted the resulting fires would kick up roughly five million metric tons of black carbon into the upper part of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the Earth's atmosphere.
In NASA climate models, this carbon then absorbed solar heat and, like a hot-air balloon, quickly lofted even higher, where the soot would take much longer to clear from the sky.
The global cooling caused by these high carbon clouds wouldn't be as catastrophic as a superpower-versus-superpower nuclear winter, but "the effects would still be regarded as leading to unprecedented climate change," research physical scientist Luke Oman said during a press briefing Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
Earth is currently in a long-term warming trend. After a regional nuclear war, though, average global temperatures would drop by 2.25 degrees F (1.25 degrees C) for two to three years afterward, the models suggest.
At the extreme, the tropics, Europe, Asia, and Alaska would cool by 5.4 to 7.2 degrees F (3 to 4 degrees C), according to the models. Parts of the Arctic and Antarctic would actually warm a bit, due to shifted wind and ocean-circulation patterns, the researchers said.
After ten years, average global temperatures would still be 0.9 degree F (0.5 degree C) lower than before the nuclear war, the models predict. ...
"The main message from our work," NASA's Oman said, "would be that even a regional nuclear conflict would have global consequences."
via Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming for Years?.
I once took a wrong turn, thanks to selecting "alternate routes" on my GPS while on a trip in another state. It was at night and I drove by what I'm pretty sure was a US nuclear missile parked on the side of the road. It was some kind of missile anyway... it was huge... on a truck somewhat like the one above. Don't ask me where or when. I wouldn't say even if I knew. I don't remember. It was out in the middle of nowhere, years ago, on a road that was only a dotted line on my map. Ominous. That's what it was.