What BC forest fires can teach us about “nuclear winter”
The publisher that hosts the famous Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says that previous estimates of how harmful a nuclear war would be to the environment were incorrect.
In fact, the effect would be much worse.
The Bulletin has produced a fascinating digital article that takes readers from the nanosecond after a nuclear explosion, to the impact of a small or large nuclear war, its long-term impact, the subsequent nuclear famine, and finally, how humanity will have nowhere to hide.
The digital publication titled, “Nowhere to hide: How a nuclear war would kill you —and almost everyone else,” is written by François Diaz-Maurin, designed by Thomas Gaulkin, and is published in both English and Russian.
Diaz-Maurin writes that, “Since the 1980s, as the threat of nuclear war reached new heights, scientists have investigated the long-term, widespread effects of nuclear war on Earth systems. Using a radiative-convective climate model that simulates the vertical profile of atmospheric temperatures, American scientists first showed that a nuclear winter could occur from the smoke produced by the massive forest fires ignited by nuclear weapons after a nuclear war.
“Two Russian scientists later conducted the first three-dimensional climate modeling showing that global temperatures would drop lower on land than on oceans, potentially causing an agricultural collapse worldwide.
“Initially contested for its imprecise results due to uncertainties in the scenarios and physical parameters involved, nuclear winter theory is now supported by more sophisticated climate models. While the basic mechanisms of nuclear winter described in the early studies still hold today, most recent calculations have shown that the effects of nuclear war would be more long-lasting and worse than previously thought.”
Scientists have examined the amount of soot and smoke released from catastrophic forest fires in Canada in 2017 and Australia in 2019 and 2020.
“But these two episodes of massive forest fires demonstrated that when smoke is injected into the lower stratosphere, it is heated by sunlight and lofted at high altitudes—10 to 20 kilometers (33,000 to 66,000 feet)—prolonging the time it stays in the stratosphere. This is precisely the mechanism that now allows scientists to better simulate the long-term impacts of nuclear war. With their models, researchers were able to accurately simulate the smoke from these large forest fires, further supporting the mechanisms that cause nuclear winter,” writes Diaz-Maurin.
The conclusions drawn by scientists are that many millions would be killed from nuclear explosions and fires, but the impact on the climate would cause far more people to die of hunger.
“The impacts of nuclear war on agricultural food systems would have dire consequences for most humans who survive the war and its immediate effects,” he says. “The overall global consequences of nuclear war—including both short-term and long-term impacts—would be even more horrific causing hundreds of millions—even billions—of people to starve to death.”
- Read “Nowhere to hide: How a nuclear war would kill you —and almost everyone else,” by François Diaz-Maurin, published on October 20, 2022 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists