Environment

New simulations model devastating effects of nuclear war on oceans

New simulations model devastat...
Climate change brought on by nuclear blasts could make it more difficult for marine life to form bones and shells
Climate change brought on by nuclear blasts could make it more difficult for marine life to form bones and shells
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Climate change brought on by nuclear blasts could make it more difficult for marine life to form bones and shells
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Climate change brought on by nuclear blasts could make it more difficult for marine life to form bones and shells

New research has shed light on how nuclear war could seriously alter the chemistry of Earth’s oceans, and in so doing damage the life that dwells within. The scientists behind the study used an advanced climate model to predict a range of nuclear scenarios, and the fallout that could follow in their wake.

Nuclear conflict is one of the greatest threats facing the world in the present day. The sheer destructive power of these super weapons was displayed in the final year of World War II, when two US bombs laid waste to the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Alongside the tragic loss of life that inevitably accompanies such an event, a nuclear conflict would also have a profound effect on Earth’s environment. Smoke would darken the skies, and agricultural crops far from the conflict sites would suffer.

Now, a new study has revealed some of the potentially devastating effects that nuclear war could have on Earth’s oceans.

Researchers used a state-of-the-art Earth system model to simulate the impact of a range of nuclear conflict scenarios. These included relatively small regional nuclear conflicts, for example between India and Pakistan, to even larger wars between the US and Russia.

The simulations showed that, in the wake of a nuclear conflict, an enormous amount of sunlight-absorbing soot particles would be injected high into the atmosphere by fires triggered by the cataclysmic blasts.

Carbon dioxide would then enter the upper ocean, and form carbonic acid, which would in turn increase ocean acidity. This would increase the amount of hydrogen ions present in the ocean while decreasing the amount of carbonate ions, which corals and marine animals rely on to develop bones and shells.

According to the researchers, soot in the atmosphere would trigger global cooling, which would have the temporary effect of lowering ocean acidification. However, the cooling would also exacerbate problems for marine life by further lowering levels of carbonate ions in the oceans for around 10 years following the nuclear strikes.

The authors note that, whilst a large-scale nuclear war would be a worst case scenario, even a relatively small war between India and Pakistan could have significant and far-reaching detrimental effects on ocean life.

“We have known for a while that agriculture on land would be severely affected by climate change from nuclear war,” comments co-author of the new study, Prof. Alan Robock of Rutgers University. “A lingering question is whether the survivors could still get food from the sea. Our study is the first step in answering this question.”

The paper has been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Letters.

Source: Rutgers University

5 comments
buzzclick
Years ago when I first discovered that the Americans had been conducting bomb tests in the South Pacific I was outraged to see that Operation Crossroads-Baker was done for the "Advancement of science", and since no people were in the immediate area, it was acceptable. Really? All that sea life there was expendable? All the more troubling to see that the UK and France had conducted their own tests, as did the Soviets in the Barents Sea. All the big boys in the nuclear club wanted to show their destructive capability, hotly pursued with an arms race. This kind of twisted thinking really opened my eyes to the outright greed and ignorance that was pretentiously justified as necessary, and today the only country that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians with atomic bombs is going around virtuously telling other countries how to behave with nuclear weaponry...hypocritically. Now we see that these kinds of irresponsible actions have a serious adverse consequences on marine life and the domino effect it entails. Humans are capable of the most wonderful and horrific acts in what is becoming a foolishly precarious and selfish terrestrial existence, and fear is the working capital.
Catweazle
Oh dear, someone's dug out Sagan's perennial favourite, the "Nuclear Winter" apocalyptic scenario again... As to climate models, here's what the IPCC have to say on the subject:
"In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible."

So stated the IPCC’s Working Group I: The Scientific Basis, Third Assessment Report (TAR), Chapter 14 (final para., 14.2.2.2), p774.
aksdad
As Catweazle pointed out, even the IPCC reports acknowledge the dismal forecasting ability of the CMIP climate modes. You just have to dig around a little in the actual science chapters, because the Summary for Policymakers that the media likes to reference glosses over (totally ignores) the (in)accuracy of the models. It goes without saying that nuclear war would be very bad. The results of this study, however, can essentially be ignored as having no predictive accuracy whatsoever.
Signguy
Buzzclick When they blew these things off in the edge of earth/space, they kinda went "uhhhhh, I think we should stop...this is too weird"
buzzclick
@Catweazle It wasn't Carl Sagan's "Nuclear Winter" that first opened my eyes. It was Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and Helen Caldicott's "If you love this Planet" that got me going. I discovered Sagan some time later, and he too made sense.