If Russia and the United States launched an all-out nuclear war, it would spell disaster for everyone on Earth.
Not only would explosions, fires and radiation exposure kill millions in targeted cities, but a “nuclear winter” lasting months to years would also drastically alter the Earth’s climate, causing freezing summers and worldwide famine.
The Cold War may be over, but nuclear bombs are still uniquely destructive, and there’s more than enough of them to cause climate catastrophe.
People think that nuclear weapons are just bigger bombs. But they’re not.
When a nuclear bomb explodes, one-third of its energy goes into an immediate explosion of heat and light. An aftershock follows this explosion, leveling any structures around the detonation and creating piles of kindling ready to catch fire. Then, as fires rage, smoke billows into the atmosphere. While rain would wash out some of that smoke, much of it would drift into the stratosphere, where it could linger above the clouds, blotting out the sun. That’s what would cause nuclear winter.
Recent Apocalyptic Study
The authors of the new study used modern climate models to calculate the effects of smoke from nuclear explosions on Earth’s temperature, wind patterns and more.
Their study wasn’t the first to model the effects of nuclear winter. In 2007, a team of researchers led by Robock ran a similar simulation.
However, this new study looked at Earth in higher resolution than the earlier research. The recent research also looked at more locations and included processes not described by the previous model, like the effects of soot on atmospheric chemistry and the influence of nuclear winter on the oceans.
Even with the updated calculations, the outcome of nuclear winter was bleak, probably signifying that these models are accurate predictions. Yes, if you can reproduce the model, you can have more confidence in your result.
The researchers found that if the U.S. and Russia were each to launch their entire nuclear arsenals at one another, soot would drift high into the atmosphere, blotting out the sun for months to years. Summers would become a thing of the past, with temperatures throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere dipping below freezing year-round. Growing seasons would be cut by 90%, and most of the world would be plagued by famine.
In addition to dropping surface temperatures, nuclear winter would have a major impact on everything from ocean currents to the jet stream. The study’s model predicted a seven-year-long El Niño, a normally yearlong weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean that usually occurs only every three to seven years. It leads to either drought or extreme rainfall in affected regions.
During a nuclear winter, people turning to the oceans to supplement dwindling crops would be disappointed, as much of the ocean’s biodiversity would also disappear. Finally, as if the effects on climate weren’t enough, soot would poke huge holes in the ozone layer, bombarding the surface of Earth with ultraviolet radiation.
After a nuclear war there really would be a nuclear winter with catastrophic consequences. And that would also probably mean our end.