Life after nuclear apocalypse war might not be as bad as we expected


Priscilla 37-kiloton balloon shot test firing in fiery mushroom cloud rising above desert landscape at NV atomic bomb Test Site. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Department Of Energy (DOE)/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

A full-on nuclear war would kill vast numbers of people, throw the tattered surviving remnants of humanity into a post-apocalyptic fight for survival and wreak unthinkable damage upon the natural world.

But scientists may have discovered a rare piece of semi-cheery news about the disastrous ‘winter’ that would hit Earth following atomic armageddon.

During the Cold War, it was estimated that hundreds of millions of people would die in the initial exchange of nuclear warheads.

Scientists are split about what will happen after the bombs are dropped.

The dust, soot and debris thrown up into air is likely to gather in the air and cloud out the sun, throwing Earth into a nuclear winter and potentially starving billions of people to death.

Estimates of exactly how many people will die during the bleak winter vary wildly, with some pessimistic scientists convinced that even a relatively small war between states like India and Pakistan could cause almost one third of people on Earth to starve to death.

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War fears a nuclear conflict between these two countries alone would interrupt food production in China and the US so dramatically that up to two billion people are at risk of starvation.

So we’re glad to report that a new piece of research has lightened the picture a little bit, although it’s still very, very dark.

The smoke generated by a nuclear war would rise into air just like the soot of a wildfire (Photo: Eric Neitzel)

To find out what might happen in a nuclear winter, A team from the University of Colorado analysed thunderstorms generated by a group of giant wildfires in 2017 and found they ‘injected a small volcano’s worth of aerosol into the stratosphere’ and created a smoke plume that lasted for almost nine months.

‘We compared observations with model calculations of the smoke plume,’ said scientist Karen Rosenlof.

‘That helped us understand why the smoke plume rose so high and persisted so long, which can be applied to other stratospheric aerosol injections, such as from volcanoes or nuclear explosions.’

The wildfires offered scientists the rare chance to watch great towers of smoke rising and spreading into the atmosphere – which is what would happen as cities burn after being hit by nuclear doomsday weapons.

Although the smoke behaved as expected when it formed pyrocumulonibus clouds and ‘erupted violently’ into the atmosphere, it lingered in the stratosphere for 40% less time than expected, suggesting previous calculations about the length of a nuclear winter may have been exaggerated.

It’s possible that the cooling impacts of a nuclear winter could last somewhat less long than models have predicted to date

‘The team found that organic  observed smoke lifetime in the stratosphere was 40% shorter, the authors say, than what would be calculated using a standard model,’ the University of Colorado quoted Brian Toon as saying.

Work is now ongoing to establish ‘what the findings mean for the climate impacts of nuclear explosions, which include a severe cooling impact dubbed “nuclear winter”‘.





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