Small nuclear war could cool the planet

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.”

Today, with the United States the only standing superpower, nuclear winter is little more than a nightmare. But nuclear war remains a possible 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 the climate models, this carbon would then absorb solar heat and, like a hot-air balloon, quickly loft 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. Read more here or here.

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