You’ve probably heard of nuclear winter, a hypothesis explored by decades of scientific research. It’s the idea that as a result of firestorms produced in all-out nuclear war, soot raised in Earth’s stratosphere would cause serious cooling, as well as crop failures and famines. Now a new study has examined how even a relatively content a nuclear conflict – for example, a hypothetical war between India and Pakistan – could change the chemistry of Earth’s oceans. The reasoning is reminiscent of that of nuclear winter: the soot raised in the atmosphere would cause cooling. In the new study, the researchers concluded that even contained conflict would “wreak havoc” on the oceans and potentially disrupt the human food chain.
Nicole Lovenduski of the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) led the study. She commented in a statement:
The impacts are enormous.
The newspaper Geophysical research letters published the new study at the end of January 2020.
These researchers used global climate models to perform their simulations. They examined four possible nuclear conflicts, including three in India / Pakistan of different magnitudes (5 teragrams, 27 teragrams and 47 teragrams of soot produced, respectively; one teragram equals one trillion grams or 1,000 kilotons), and a whole US / Russian case with 150 teragrams of soot produced. Writing on LaboratoryEquipment.com, Michelle Taylor wrote a succinct explanation of what would happen in even the “softer” of Indo-Pakistani simulations. She wrote:
… The researchers found that the conflict would likely generate huge amounts of black carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the globe to cool. Interestingly, the researchers found that the fallout from a nuclear explosion would occur in two stages: the first within a year and the second between three and five years after the bombardment.
Soon after the denotation and no more than a year later, global climate models showed that the acidity of the world’s oceans would likely decrease. Years later, the world’s salt water would start to suck more carbon dioxide out of the air. The carbonate reserves in the oceans would decrease, eliminating the key ingredient that corals use to maintain their reefs and oysters use to maintain their shells.
Lovenduski told Taylor that in addition to wreaking havoc on crustaceans, a major disruption of the oceanic food web would undoubtedly have a serious impact on the human food chain. Taylor wrote:
This is because there are now over 3 billion people in the world who depend on ocean fishing for their protein and / or income.
Brian Toon, also of CU Boulder, was a co-author of the study. He commented in the team’s statement:
This result is one that no one expected. In fact, few people have ever considered the impact of a nuclear conflict on the ocean.
A lot would change in the oceans once the lights were dimmed [via soot in the atmosphere]. The way water moves in the ocean, for example, is sensitive to the amount of heat it draws from the atmosphere …
It makes me wonder if organizations could adapt to such a change. We’re already wondering if they can adapt to the relatively slower process of human acidification of the oceans, and it would happen much more abruptly.
Lovenduski said it was too early to say for sure what the fate of shelled creatures in the oceans would be if nuclear war broke out. She said she hopes her group’s findings will draw more attention to the vast devastation that would follow even a limited nuclear exchange. There is no such thing, she said, as minor nuclear war, adding:
I hope this study helps us take a step back from the fact that even a small-scale nuclear war could have global ramifications.
Conclusion: Scientists used global climate models to study various scenarios involving limited nuclear conflicts. The researchers called the impacts “huge”.
Source: The potential impact of nuclear conflict on ocean acidification
Via the University of Colorado Boulder