There Was a Limited Nuclear War so We Got a Snow Day

BY Robert Lamb / POSTED March 3, 2011

I’ve blogged before about the whole nuclear winter versus global warming issue and it’s still something that always comes across as a relevant comparison of two man-made atmospheric changes or the bland witticism from the type of person who doesn’t believe in climate change and who fails to see the downside to nuclear warfare. It all depends on who’s doing the talking.

In this latest bit of news (via Planetsave), it’s NASA scientist Luke Oman doing the talking. Specifically, Oman and colleagues used the latest climate models to take a new look at just how smoke rising from burning cities and forests in a regional or “fun size” nuclear war would impact the environment. I lay it all out in the HowStuffWorks article “What would nuclear winter be like?” but we’re talking clouds of ash dimming sunlight, resulting in everything from cooler temperatures to noon skies black as the cellars of hell.

You can read the full story right here, but here are Oman’s key points:
•    They studied the scenario of using 100 Hiroshima-size bombs, ejecting 5 megatons of black carbon particles into Earth’s upper troposphere.
•    This would cause global temperatures to fall by a little over 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) over the first three years.
•    Black carbon particles produced from nuclear fire storms are smaller than sulfate particles produced by volcanic eruptions (which can bring about volcanic winter). Furthermore, these particles can ascend much higher thanks to solar heating, where they can influence climate for up to a decade.
•    Two to four years after the event, rainfall would decrease globally by an average of about 10 percent.
•    The detonations would also drives global stratospheric ozone loss.
•     Cooler temperatures, decreased  precipitation and decreased solar radiation would cause widespread agricultural losses.

Cheery stuff! As always, you can find the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast on iTunes, Zune and the RSS feed. And don’t forget the free HowStuffWorks iPhone App. Thanks to Becky Striepe for bringing this to my attention!

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