Even in the post-Cold War age, the nuclear threat remains a very real one. Leaders around the globe recognize the inherent dangers for us all in launching such a large-scale military conflict, and yet the world’s combined nuclear arsenal is still more than enough to reduce our planet to a burnt, lifeless ball of rock floating in space. In spite of the dangers, the big thinkers at NASA have worked out that even a small-scale nuclear conflict could serve to reverse the effects of global warming over multiple years.
According to NASA’s calculations, reported by National Geographic, even a small “regional” conflict could have a dramatic impact on rising temperatures around the globe. To be clear, even a regional conflict is no small thing: the testing model was built around the detonation of 100 “Hiroshima-level bombs,” or roughly 0.03 percent of the world’s combined nuclear arsenal. More than enough to wipe out unacceptable levels of human civilization.
The result of the mock-up nuclear war showed that the fires left in its wake would release five million metric tons of black carbon into Earth’s atmosphere. It would first settle in at the upper part of the troposphere, the lowest layer of our atmosphere, where the absorption of solar heat would serve to kick the soot up even higher. The higher it goes, the longer it takes to clear out of the atmosphere, which means a longer period of global coolings.
A more grand-scale nuclear engagement would have similar results, though in addition to the massive loss of life the climate change that followed would have catastrophic effects. With a smaller regional conflict, however, “the effects would still be regarded as leading to unprecedented climate change,” research scientist Luke Oman said in a Friday press conference. Average global temperatures could drop as much as 2.25 degrees for two to three years after.
This doesn’t mean we should start looking for a city to wipe out in the interests of saving us all. “Our results suggest that agriculture could be severely impacted, especially in areas that are susceptible to late-spring and early-fall frosts,” Oman warned. Global precipitation would also drop by 10 percent for as long as four years, and some reduction would be evident for as many as seven. A global cooling might be a welcome change, but not the drought and famine that could follow it.
The result of the research, as Oman said, is simple enough to read: “The main message from our work would be that even a regional nuclear conflict would have global consequences.” Or, in layman’s terms, “Don’t start bombing each other.”