regional nuclear war climate change?

In 1985 I put together a panel of scientific experts to identify what the human effects of a nuclear weapons exchange might mean (as far as I know, still the only such report) and then assisted in the discussion in New Zealand.

I moved from the antipodes to the antipodes.

Star Wars or the Strategic Defense Initiative of the Reagan era moved north to Alaska (“north to the future” or the last gasp of yesterday?)

Missile defense system alters an outpost
Four years after President Bush ordered a limited missile defense system to be built and nearly a quarter century after Ronald Reagan first proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, this sub-Arctic outpost, once a Cold War training site and still a cold-weather training site, is where progress on the long-embattled missile system is perhaps most evident, military officials say….

Eleven interceptor missiles are installed in underground silos here, buried beneath the snow and a former forest of black spruce. This summer, when North Korea signaled that it planned to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, Fort Greely, which has never fired a test missile, was put on alert status, ostensibly ready to respond if necessary….

Fort Greely’s missile defense system has not been declared fully operational.

Even as questions persist about capability, the missile defense program is pushing forward at a cost of at least $9 billion a year…. Fort Greely is better situated to interrupt the likely flight path of a missile from Asia or the Middle East….

As noted previously, southwestern Alaska and the Aleutians are the (only) areas of the USA which are within range of missiles which might be tipped with the newest set of nuclear weapons.

Two updated research reports on the global effect of even a regional nuclear weapon explosion or exchange has been released. The original report was known as the TTAPS report, after the initials of its authors. The climatic effects were known then as Nuclear Winter. Two of those authors contribute to this newest modelling report. The first set of references below are to the three, slightly different press releases. Below them are how these press releases were followed up by the news media.

Like all models (even our own idea of how winter should progress each year) they are only good as predictors as our assumptions. However, most models, like our idea of winter weather, are designed to help us plan and be ready; to see the larger picture; to play experiment beyond our imagination. Modelling in the natural world isn’t causative; doesn’t cause the event to happen just because we think about it [despite what some academics believe.]


Regional nuclear war would trigger mass death, devastating climate change

Even a small-scale regional nuclear war could produce as many fatalities as all of World War II, disrupt the global climate for a decade or more and impact nearly every person on Earth, according to two new studies by University of Colorado at Boulder, Rutgers University and University of California, Los Angeles researchers.

Presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco Dec. 11 and published Nov. 22 in the online journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, the two studies represent the first quantitative assessment of the consequences of a nuclear conflict between small or emerging nuclear powers, said CU-Boulder Professor Owen “Brian” Toon. Toon led the studies, working with UCLA Professor Richard Turco, Rutgers professors Alan Robock and Georgiy Stenchikov, CU-Boulder doctoral student Charles Bardeen and former Rutgers student Luke Oman, now a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

“Considering the relatively small number and yields of the weapons, the potential devastation would be catastrophic and long term,” said Toon, chair of CU-Boulder’s atmospheric and oceanic sciences department….

The results represent the first comprehensive analysis of the consequences of a nuclear conflict between smaller nuclear states, said Toon, who noted even the smallest nuclear powers today likely have 50 or more Hiroshima-sized weapons. In addition, about 40 countries possess enough plutonium, uranium or a combination of both to construct substantial nuclear arsenals. “A small country is likely to direct its weapons against population centers to maximize damage and achieve the greatest advantage,” Toon said….

The second paper, titled “Climatic Consequences of Regional Nuclear Conflicts,” looks at the effects of the smoke produced in a regional war between two opposing nations in the subtropics, said lead author Robock. The researchers modeled the effects on each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons to attack the most populated urban areas of an enemy nation.

Because of the complexity of the problem and limited amount of data available, the research team assessed uncertainty factors at each step in their analysis and emphasized further research is needed to improve the paper’s predictions.

Regional nuclear war could devastate global climate

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War II and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more, with environmental effects that could be devastating for everyone on Earth, university researchers have found.

As in the case with earlier nuclear winter calculations, large climatic effects would occur in regions far removed from the target areas or the countries involved in the conflict.

When Robock and his team applied their climate model to calibrate the recorded response to the 1912 eruptions of Katmai volcano in Alaska, they found that observed temperature anomalies were accurately reproduced.

The papers are: “Atmospheric Effects and Societal Consequences of Regional Scale Nuclear Conflicts and Acts of Individual Terrorism,” O. B. Toon, R. P. Turco, A. Robock, C. Bardeen, L. Oman and G. L. Stenchikov, and “Climatic Consequences of Regional Nuclear Conflicts,” A. Robock. L. Oman, G. L. Stenchikov, O. B. Toon, C. Bardeen and R. P. Turco.


Regional nuclear war could spark climate change

12 Dec 2006 Source: Reuters, By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 11 (Reuters) – New scientific modeling shows that a regional nuclear conflict between countries such as India and Pakistan could spark devastating climate changes worldwide, a team of researchers said on Monday.

“We are at a perilous crossroads,” said Owen Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. “The current combination of nuclear proliferation, political instability and urban demographics form perhaps the greatest danger to the stability of society since the dawn of humanity.”

Toon was one of the scientists who warned in the 1980s of a “nuclear winter” should the United States and Soviet Union engage in a nuclear conflict.

The demise of the Soviet Union has reduced such a threat, but using supercomputing analysis not available two decades ago, the team calculated a devastating impact from the exchange of 100 nuclear weapons — an amount they said represented the potential of India and Pakistan….

“This is not a solution to global warming because you have to look at the devastating climate changes,” said Alan Robock of the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers, who has studied the impact of climatic change from regional nuclear war.

“The main point here is that while most people think that we are on a path of reduced probability of war with the build down of the superpowers and we are on a trend toward a peaceful century, we actually have the opposite situation going on.”…

Scientists say even a regional nuclear war could do severe environmental damage

(2 comments; last comment posted Today 04:26 pm) By ALICIA CHANG | Associated Press, December 11, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Some of the scientists who first advanced the controversial “nuclear winter” theory more than two decades ago have come up with another bleak forecast: Even a regional nuclear war would devastate the environment…. Using modern climate and population models…

Some climate experts not connected with the research questioned some of the assumptions made in the studies.

For example, the studies assume that smoke is mostly made up of soot. But other organic particles could cause smoke to scatter and not stay aloft in the atmosphere as long, lessening the impact…

The late astronomer Carl Sagan and four colleagues developed the nuclear winter theory…

The cooldown would shorten the growing season by about a month in parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Normal rainfall patterns such as summer monsoons in Africa and Southeast Asia would be disrupted, possibly causing huge crop failures.

In addition, the ozone layer, which keeps out harmful ultraviolet radiation, would shrink more than 20 percent, with the poles seeing a 70 percent reduction.

Small nuclear conflict could affect globe, report says

By John Johnson Jr., Times Staff Writer, December 12, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — Even a small nuclear conflict could have catastrophic environmental and societal consequences, extending the death toll far beyond the number of people killed directly by bombs, according to the first comprehensive climatic analysis of a regional nuclear war…

While a small nuclear exchange might not trigger a life-ending “nuclear winter,” it could cause as much death as was once predicted for a nuclear war … “These results are quite surprising,” Toon said…. Regional nuclear conflicts “can endanger entire populations” the way it was once thought only worldwide conflict could…


There are other papers, too at the “ACPD – Papers in Open Discussion”, including one on Asian dust composition (which also reaches southwest Alaska

American Geophysical Union

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2 responses to “regional nuclear war climate change?

  1. The Why Files from the University of Wiscponsin, and a favorite reference for schoolteachers on my e-list, has an entry with nice graphic displays of the impact of soot from a regional nuclear explosion. Check out the bibliography and the related files.

  2. Limited nuclear war would damage ozone layer

    * 22:00 07 April 2008 * news service * Catherine Brahic

    Apart from the human devastation, a small-scale nuclear war between India and Pakistan would destroy much of the ozone layer, leaving the DNA of humans and other organisms at risk of damage from the Sun’s rays, say researchers. Michael Mills of the University of Colorado at Boulder, US, and colleagues…

    found that a regional nuclear war in South Asia would deplete up to 40% of the ozone layer in the mid latitudes and up to 70% in the high northern latitudes.

    The effect is far greater than was calculated in the 1980s in a study that modelled the effect of global nuclear war. Mills says old models did not take into account the impact of columns of soot that would rise up to 80 kilometres into the atmosphere.

    “Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0710058105)”