Nuclear weapons Nuclear-armed states
Nuclear winter is a predicted climatic effect of nuclear war. It has been theorized that severely cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years could be caused by detonating large numbers of nuclear weapons, especially over flammable targets such as cities, where large amounts of smoke and soot would be ejected into the Earth's stratosphere.
- 1 Mechanism
- 2 Consequences
- 3 Recent modeling
- 4 History
- 5 Criticism and debate
- 6 Policy implications
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The nuclear winter scenario predicts that the huge fires caused by nuclear explosions (from burning urban areas) would loft massive amounts of dense smoke from the fires, into the upper troposphere / stratosphere. At 10-15 kilometers (6–9 miles) above the Earth's surface, the absorption of sunlight would further heat the smoke, lifting some, or all of it, into the stratosphere, to where the smoke would persist for years, with no rain to wash it out. This aerosol of particles would block out much of the sun's light from reaching the surface, causing surface temperatures to drop drastically.
Aerosol removal timescale
The exact timescale for how long this smoke remains, and thus how severely this smoke affects the climate once it reaches the stratosphere, is dependent on both chemical and physical removal processes. The physical removal mechanisms affecting the timescale of smoke particle removal are how quickly the particles in the smoke coagulate and fall out of the atmosphere via dry deposition, and to a slower degree, the time it takes for solar radiation pressure to move the particles to a lower level in the atmosphere. Whether by coagulation or radiation pressure, once the particles are at this lower atmospheric level cloud seeding can begin, permitting precipitation to wash the smoke aerosol out of the atmosphere by the wet deposition mechanism. The chemical processes that affect the removal are dependant on the ability of atmospheric chemistry to oxidize the smoke, via reactions with oxidative species such as ozone and nitrogen oxides, both of which are found at all levels of the atmosphere. Historical data on residence times of aerosols, albeit a different mixture of aerosols, from megavolcano eruptions appear to be in the 1-2 year time scale. Aerosol atmosphere interactions are still poorly understood.
A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 found that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict scenario where two opposing nations in the subtropics would each use 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (about 15 kiloton each) on major populated centers, the researchers estimated as much as five million tons of soot would be released, which would produce a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia, including most of the grain-growing regions. The cooling would last for years, and according to the research could be "catastrophic".
A 2008 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that a nuclear weapons exchange between Pakistan and India using their current arsenals could create a near- global ozone hole, triggering human health problems and wreaking environmental havoc for at least a decade. The computer-modeling study looked at a nuclear war between the two countries involving 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear devices on each side, producing massive urban fires and lofting as much as five million metric tons of soot about 50 miles (80 km) into the stratosphere. The soot would absorb enough solar radiation to heat surrounding gases, setting in motion a series of chemical reactions that would break down the stratospheric ozone layer protecting Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Based on new work published in 2007 and 2008 by some of the authors of the original studies, several new hypotheses have been put forth.
A minor nuclear war with each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs as airbursts on urban areas could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history. A nuclear war between the United States and Russia today could produce nuclear winter, with temperatures plunging below freezing in the summer in major agricultural regions, threatening the food supply for most of the planet. The climatic effects of the smoke from burning cities and industrial areas would last for several years, much longer than previously thought. New climate model simulations, which are said to have the capability of including the entire atmosphere and oceans, show that the smoke would be lofted by solar heating to the upper stratosphere, where it would remain for years.
Compared to climate change for the past millennium, even the smallest exchange modeled would plunge the planet into temperatures colder than the Little Ice Age (the period of history between approximately A.D. 1600 and A.D. 1850). This would take effect instantly, and agriculture would be severely threatened. Larger amounts of smoke would produce larger climate changes, and for the 150 Tg case produce a true nuclear winter, making agriculture impossible for years. In both cases, new climate model simulations show that the effects would last for more than a decade.
2007 study on global nuclear war
A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in July 2007, Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences, used current climate models to look at the consequences of a global nuclear war involving most or all of the world's current nuclear arsenals (which the authors described as being only about a third the size of the world's arsenals twenty years earlier). The authors used a global circulation model, ModelE from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which they noted "has been tested extensively in global warming experiments and to examine the effects of volcanic eruptions on climate." The model was used to investigate the effects of a war involving the entire current global nuclear arsenal, projected to release about 150 Tg of smoke into the atmosphere (1 Tg is equal to 1012 grams), as well as a war involving about one third of the current nuclear arsenal, projected to release about 50 Tg of smoke. In the 150 Tg case they found that:A global average surface cooling of –7°C to –8°C persists for years, and after a decade the cooling is still –4°C (Fig. 2). Considering that the global average cooling at the depth of the last ice age 18,000 yr ago was about –5°C, this would be a climate change unprecedented in speed and amplitude in the history of the human race. The temperature changes are largest over land ... Cooling of more than –20°C occurs over large areas of North America and of more than –30°C over much of Eurasia, including all agricultural regions.
In addition, they found that this cooling caused a weakening of the global hydrological cycle, reducing global precipitation by about 45%. As for the 50 Tg case involving one third of current nuclear arsenals, they said that the simulation "produced climate responses very similar to those for the 150 Tg case, but with about half the amplitude," but that "the time scale of response is about the same." They did not discuss the implications for agriculture in depth, but noted that a 1986 study which assumed no food production for a year projected that "most of the people on the planet would run out of food and starve to death by then" and commented that their own results show that "this period of no food production needs to be extended by many years, making the impacts of nuclear winter even worse than previously thought."
Kuwait wells in the first Gulf War
Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Carl Sagan and other scientists predicted that burning oil wells could cause environmental damage comparable to nuclear winter. Nearly 700 oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army and the fires were not fully extinguished until November 6, 1991, eight months after the end of the war. The fires consumed an estimated six million barrels of oil daily.
According to a 1992 study from Peter Hobbs and Lawrence Radke, daily emissions of sulfur dioxide were 57% of that from electric utilities in the United States, emissions of carbon dioxide were 2% of global emissions and emissions of soot were 3,400 metric tons per day. However, pre-war claims of wide scale, long-lasting, and significant global environmental impacts were not borne out and found to be significantly exaggerated by the media and speculators, with climate models at the time of the fires predicting only more localized effects such as a daytime temperature drop of ~10 °C within ~200 km of the source. At the peak of the fires, the smoke absorbed 75% to 80% of the sun’s radiation. The particles were never observed to rise above 6 km and when combined with scavenging by clouds gave the smoke a short residency time in the atmosphere and localized its effects; Professor Carl Sagan of the Turco, Toon, Ackerman, Pollack, Sagan (TTAPS) study hypothesized in January 1991 that enough smoke from the fires "might get so high as to disrupt agriculture in much of South Asia...." Sagan later conceded in his book The Demon-Haunted World that this prediction did not turn out to be correct: "it was pitch black at noon and temperatures dropped 4°–6°C over the Persian Gulf, but not much smoke reached stratospheric altitudes and Asia was spared."
The 2007 study discussed above noted that modern computer models have been applied to the Kuwait oil fires, finding that individual smoke plumes are not able to loft smoke into the stratosphere, but that smoke from fires covering a large area, like some forest fires or the burning of cities that would be expected to follow a nuclear strike, would loft significant amounts of smoke into the stratosphere:Stenchikov et al. [2006b] conducted detailed, high-resolution smoke plume simulations with the RAMS regional climate model [e.g., Miguez-Macho et al., 2005] and showed that individual plumes, such as those from the Kuwait oil fires in 1991, would not be expected to loft into the upper atmosphere or stratosphere, because they become diluted. However, much larger plumes, such as would be generated by city fires, produce large, undiluted mass motion that results in smoke lofting. New large eddy simulation model results at much higher resolution also give similar lofting to our results, and no small scale response that would inhibit the lofting [Jensen, 2006].
In June 1957, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons by Samuel Glasstone was published containing a section entitled "Nuclear Bombs and the Weather" (pages 69–71), which states: "The dust raised in severe volcanic eruptions, such as that at Krakatoa in 1883, is known to cause a noticeable reduction in the sunlight reaching the earth ... The amount of debris remaining in the atmosphere after the explosion of even the largest nuclear weapons is probably not more than about 1 percent or so of that raised by the Krakatoa eruption. Further, solar radiation records reveal that none of the nuclear explosions to date has resulted in any detectable change in the direct sunlight recorded on the ground." In 1974, John Hampson suggested that a full-scale nuclear exchange could result in depletion of the ozone shield, possibly subjecting the earth to ultraviolet radiation for a year or more. In 1975, the United States National Research Council (NRC) reported on ozone depletion following nuclear war, judging that the effect of dust would probably be slight climatic cooling.
In 1981, William J. Moran began discussions and research in the NRC on the dust effects of a large exchange of nuclear warheads. An NRC study panel on the topic met in December 1981 and April 1982.
As part of a study launched in 1980 by Ambio, a journal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Paul Crutzen and John Birks circulated a draft paper in early 1982 with the first quantitative evidence of alterations in short-term climate after a nuclear war. In 1982, a special issue of Ambio devoted to the possible environmental consequences of nuclear war included a paper by Crutzen and Birks anticipating the nuclear winter scenario. The paper discussed particulates from large fires, nitrogen oxide, ozone depletion and the effect of nuclear twilight on agriculture. Crutzen and Birks showed that smoke injected into the atmosphere by fires in cities, forests and petroleum reserves could prevent up to 99% of sunlight from reaching the Earth's surface, with major climatic consequences: "The normal dynamic and temperature structure of the atmosphere would therefore change considerably over a large fraction of the Northern Hemisphere, which will probably lead to important changes in land surface temperatures and wind systems." An important implication of their work was that a "first strike" nuclear attack would have severe consequences for the perpetrator.
In 1982, the so-called TTAPS team (R.P. Turco, O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman, J.B. Pollack and C.E. Sagan) undertook a computational modeling study of the atmospheric consequences of nuclear war, publishing their results in Science in December 1983. The phrase "nuclear winter" was coined by Turco just prior to publication. In this early work, TTAPS carried out the first estimates of the total smoke and dust emissions that would result from a major nuclear exchange, and determined quantitatively the subsequent effects on the atmospheric radiation balance and temperature structure. To compute dust and smoke impacts, they employed a one-dimensional microphysics/radiative-transfer model of the Earth's lower atmosphere (to the mesopause), which defined only the vertical characteristics of the global climate perturbation.
Around this time, interest in nuclear war environmental effects also arose in the USSR. After becoming aware of the work of the Swedish Academy and, in particular, papers by N.P.Bochkov and E.I.Chazov, Russian atmospheric scientist Georgy Golitsyn applied his research on dust-storms to the situation following a nuclear catastrophe. His suggestion that the atmosphere would be heated and that the surface of the planet would cool appeared in The Herald of the Academy of Sciences in September 1983. Upon learning of the TTAPS scenarios, Vladimir Alexandrov and G. I. Stenchikov soon published a report on the climatic consequences of nuclear war based on simulations with a two-level global circulation model, which produced results consistent with the TTAPS findings.
In 1984 the WMO commissioned Georgy Golitsyn and N. A. Phillips to review the state of the science. They found that studies generally assumed a scenario that half of the world's nuclear weapons would be used, ~5000 Mt, destroying approximately 1,000 cities, and creating large quantities of carbonaceous smoke - 1–2 × 1014 grams being mostly likely, with a range of 0.2 – 6.4 × 1014 grams (NAS; TTAPS assumed 2.25 × 1014). The smoke resulting would be largely opaque to solar radiation but transparent to infra-red, thus cooling by blocking sunlight but not causing warming from enhancing the greenhouse effect. The optical depth of the smoke can be much greater than unity. Forest fires resulting from non-urban targets could increase aerosol production further. Dust from near-surface explosions against hardened targets also contributes; each Mt-equivalent of explosion could release up to 5 million tons of dust, but most would quickly fall out; high altitude dust is estimated at 0.1-1 million tons per Mt-equivalent of explosion. Burning of crude oil could also contribute substantially.
The 1-D radiative-convective models used in these studies produced a range of results, with coolings up to 15-42 °C between 14 and 35 days after the war, with a "baseline" of about 20 °C. Somewhat more sophisticated calculations using 3-D GCMs (Alexandrov and Stenchikov (1983); Covey, Schneider and Thompson (1984); produced similar results: temperature drops of between 20 and 40 °C, though with regional variations.
All calculations show large heating (up to 80 °C) at the top of the smoke layer at about 10 km; this implies a substantial modification of the circulation there and the possibility of advection of the cloud into low latitudes and the southern hemisphere.
The report made no attempt to compare the likely human impacts of the post-war cooling to the direct deaths from explosions.
In 1990, in a paper entitled "Climate and Smoke: An Appraisal of Nuclear Winter," TTAPS give a more detailed description of the short- and long-term atmospheric effects of a nuclear war using a three-dimensional model:
First 1 to 3 months:
- 10 to 25% of soot injected is immediately removed by precipitation, while the rest is transported over the globe in 1 to 2 weeks
- SCOPE figures for July smoke injection:
- 22 °C drop in mid-latitudes
- 10 °C drop in humid climates
- 75% decrease in rainfall in mid-latitudes
- Light level reduction of 0% in low latitudes to 90% in high smoke injection areas
- SCOPE figures for winter smoke injection:
- Temperature drops between 3° and 4 °C
Following 1 to 3 years:
- 25 to 40% of injected smoke is stabilised in atmosphere (NCAR). Smoke stabilised for approximately 1 year.
- Land temperatures of several degrees below normal
- Ocean surface temperature between 2 and 6 °C
- Ozone depletion of 50% leading to 200% increase in UV radiation incident on surface.
Criticism and debate
The TTAPS study was widely reported and criticized in the media. Later model runs in some cases predicted less severe effects, but continued to support the overall conclusion of significant global cooling. Recent studies (2006) substantiate that smoke from urban firestorms in a regional war would lead to long lasting global cooling but in a less dramatic manner than the nuclear winter scenario, while a 2007 study of the effects of global nuclear war supported the conclusion that it would lead to full-scale nuclear winter.
The original work by Sagan and others was criticized as a "myth" and "discredited theory" in the 1987 book Nuclear War Survival Skills, a civil defense manual by Cresson Kearny for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Kearny said the maximum estimated temperature drop would be only about by 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius), and that this amount of cooling would last only a few days. He also suggested that a global nuclear war would indeed result in millions of deaths from hunger, but primarily due to cessation of international food supplies, rather than due to climate changes.
Kearny, who was not a climate scientist himself, based his conclusions almost entirely on the 1986 paper "Nuclear Winter Reappraised" by Starley Thompson and Stephen Schneider. However, a 1988 article by Brian Martin in Science and Public Policy states that although their paper concluded the effects would be less severe than originally thought, with the authors describing these effects as a "nuclear autumn", other statements by Thompson and Schneider show that they "resisted the interpretation that this means a rejection of the basic points made about nuclear winter". In addition, the authors of the 2007 study above state that "because of the use of the term 'nuclear autumn' by Thompson and Schneider , even though the authors made clear that the climatic consequences would be large, in policy circles the theory of nuclear winter is considered by some to have been exaggerated and disproved [e.g., Martin, 1988]." And in 2007 Schneider emphasized the danger of serious climate changes from a limited nuclear war of the kind analyzed in the 2006 study above, saying "The sun is much stronger in the tropics than it is in mid-latitudes. Therefore, a much more limited war [there] could have a much larger effect, because you are putting the smoke in the worst possible place."
All of the papers begin with the common premise: a large quantity of carbon aerosol has found its way into the stratosphere. As firestorm formation is clearly a necessity to generate the form of smoke discussed in the climatology models, this is the bedrock to all nuclear winter predictions. The 150 Tg carbon soot aerosol injection into the stratosphere, which the TTAPS paper required to cause nuclear winter, has been criticised on the basis of World War II firestorm ignition evidence from Japanese and medieval European wooden cities, since unbiased factual evidence exists in survivor testimony from Hiroshima that soot was actually precipitated as rainout during the firestorm-the infamous black rain a natural phenomenon produced by Pyrocumulus clouds. At Hiroshima, the infamous black rain formed soon after the bombing, washing large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.
Unlike the Japanese wooden cities of 1945 and medieval wooden housing areas of Germany where firestorms occurred, modern cities are not built out of predominantly flammable materials like wood, but built of mostly concrete and masonry brick.
The nuclear winter effect from the firestorm in Hiroshima blocked out the sun for 25 minutes (from burst time at 8:15 am until 8:40 am) as shown by the meteorological sunshine records printed in Figure 6 (3H) of the Report of the Joint Commission for the Investigation of the Effects of the Atomic Bomb in Japan, Volume 1, Office of the Air Surgeon, report NP-3036, April 19, 1951, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The Hiroshima firestorm soot was hydroscopic, absorbing water and falling out in black rain, which limited the climatic effect. The fact that soot was rapidly precipitated in a self-induced rainout in Hiroshima was in 1983 used as a nuclear winter criticism by J. B. Knox of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in report UCRL-89907. No other nuclear explosion ever created a firestorm, including detonations of up to 15 megatons beside naturally forested islands-Bikini and Eniwetok Atoll, which failed to ignite the trees due to the high (80%) air humidity and its effects both on ignition and thermal pulse transmission. Targeting oil wells instead of cities, as was done in the final TAPPS paper to compensate for reduced estimates of city firestorm soot emission, reduces the moisture effect, but the soot doesn't rise high enough from burning oil wells for widespread climatic effects, as proved in 1991 when Iraq set fire to all of Kuwait’s oil fields.
Lastly, there is the question of whether the thermal pulse of a modern nuclear weapon is sufficient to ignite an entire modern city, or simply level most of it to the ground. The generating mechanism for the firestorm that engulfed Hiroshima was not(as some contend) directly linked to the thermal pulse from the atomic bomb, but in reality the major causative agent of the firestorm was the timing of the bombing, and to a lesser degree the exceptionally dry weather conditions preceding the bomb run. The fact that the bombing occurred at 08:15 local time meant the bombing occurred right around breakfast time, which importantly implies that the fires were secondary in nature, started from overturned cooking devices when the blast wave arrived, This is in direct contrast to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, where no true firestorm formed.
The originally secret 6 volume U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey reports on Hiroshima and Nagasaki disclose that there had been no significant rain for 3 weeks prior to the Hiroshima bombing, and for 10 days prior to the Nagasaki bombing, except for one light shower on August 5. The May 1947 U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey report on Hiroshima lists all the factors that contributed to the firestorm on pages 4–6: "Six persons who had been in reinforced-concrete buildings within 3,200 feet of air zero stated that black cotton black-out curtains were ignited by flash heat... A large proportion of over 1,000 persons questioned was, however, in agreement that a great majority of the original fires were started by debris falling on kitchen charcoal fires ... There had been practically no rain in the city for about 3 weeks. The velocity of the wind ... was not more than 5 miles per hour.... Hundreds of fires were reported to have started in the centre of the city within 10 minutes after the explosion... almost no effort was made to fight this conflagration ... There were no automatic sprinkler systems in buildings...".
In an interview in 2000, Mikhail Gorbachev, in response to the comment "In the 1980s, you warned about the unprecedented dangers of nuclear weapons and took very daring steps to reverse the arms race," said "Models made by Russian and American scientists showed that a nuclear war would result in a nuclear winter that would be extremely destructive to all life on Earth; the knowledge of that was a great stimulus to us, to people of honor and morality, to act in that situation."
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- ^ Thompson, Starley L & Schneider, Stephen H Nuclear Winter Reappraised in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 64, No. 5 (Summer, 1986), pp. 981-1005
- ^ Thompson, Starley L.; Stephen H. Schneider. "Nuclear Winter Reappraised". Foreign Affairs 62 (Summer 1986): 981–1005. http://www.foreignaffairs.org/19860601faessay7798/starley-l-thompson-stephen-h-schneider/nuclear-winter-reappraised.html.
- ^ Stephen H. Schneider, letter, Wall Street Journal, 25 November 1986.
- ^ 'Severe global-scale nuclear war effects reaffirmed', statement resulting from SCOPE-ENUWAR workshop in Bangkok, 9–12 February 1987.
- ^ Climate scientist Stephen Schneider describes chilling consequences of a nuclear war
- ^ a b c d e f Effects of atomic bomb on Hiroshima.Vol. 1 The National Archives
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- The Encyclopedia of Earth, Nuclear Winter Lead Author: Alan Robock. Last Updated: July 31, 2008
- Global Atmospheric Consequences of Nuclear War, the 1983 study conducted by TTAPS.
- Nuclear Winter Simulation Animation
- New studies of climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflict from Alan Robock, including links to new studies published in 2007.
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Look at other dictionaries:
nuclear winter — uclear winter n. a hypothetical lowering of global temperature postulated as the aftermath of a full nuclear war. The mechanism of such an effect depends primarily on the injection into the atmosphere of small solid particles, as soot from… … The Collaborative International Dictionary of English
nuclear winter — noun count a long period of cold and darkness that could follow a nuclear war, during which the sun s heat and light would be blocked by clouds of dust … Usage of the words and phrases in modern English
nuclear winter — ☆ nuclear winter n. a hypothetical condition following nuclear war in which light from the sun is cut off by clouds of smoke and dust resulting in very low temperatures and consequent devastation of the environment and loss of life … English World dictionary
nuclear winter — the general devastation of life, along with worldwide darkness and extreme cold, that some scientists believe would result from a global dust cloud screening out sunlight following large scale nuclear detonations. [1980 85] * * * Environmental… … Universalium
nuclear winter — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms nuclear winter : singular nuclear winter plural nuclear winters a long period of cold and darkness that could follow a nuclear war, during which the sun s heat and light would be blocked by clouds of dust … English dictionary
nuclear winter — noun a long period of darkness and extreme cold that scientists predict would follow a full scale nuclear war; a layer of dust and smoke in the atmosphere would cover the earth and block the rays of the sun; most living organisms would perish •… … Useful english dictionary
nuclear winter — N UNCOUNT: also a N Nuclear winter refers to the possible effects on the environment of a war in which large numbers of nuclear weapons are used. It is thought that there would be very low temperatures and very little light during a nuclear… … English dictionary
nuclear winter — noun Date: 1983 the chilling of climate that is hypothesized to be a consequence of nuclear war and to result from the prolonged blockage of sunlight by high altitude dust clouds produced by nuclear explosions … New Collegiate Dictionary
nuclear winter — noun A predicted drop in global temperature following a nuclear war due to dust in the upper atmosphere reducing sunlight reaching the ground. Syn: nuclear holocaust … Wiktionary
nuclear winter — /njukliə ˈwɪntə/ (say nyoohkleeuh wintuh) noun a period of freezing temperatures and widespread famine, lasting several months, predicted to follow a nuclear war as a result of the blocking of sunlight by fallout. Also, nuclear freeze … Australian English dictionary