A nuclear war between the US and Russia could plunge the world into a nuclear winter, a simulation has confirmed, as tensions rise following the US pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and conducting a mid-range cruise missile test.
Researchers from Rutgers University, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research used a new climate model to simulate what would happen to the Earth's atmosphere in the event of an all-out nuclear war between the two countries, and compared it to a simulation by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies conducted in 2007. The new study confirmed the findings that a nuclear war would have catastrophic consequences for the planet, plunging the Earth into a 10-year-long nuclear winter.
Like this report from June 2019, the authors chose to look at the worst-case scenario.
The latest study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, found that the nuclear detonations would inject about 147 million tons (150 billion kilograms) of soot into the atmosphere.
This would then be spread around the stratosphere, plunging the Earth into darkness and nuclear winter within weeks of bombs being dropped. According to the model, the soot would not visibly clear for around seven years.
"In the first year following the injection, global temperatures plunge by more than 7[°C]," the authors wrote in their paper. Then, in the enduring darkness, the Earth would see global temperatures drop by about 9°C (16.2°F). Weather events would become more variable, with knock-on changes to the El Niño cycle.
Rainfall would be reduced by around 30 percent globally in the months following the attacks, likely causing huge problems for food production.
"The models agree that a nuclear winter would follow a large scale nuclear war between the United States and Russia," the authors wrote in their paper, agreeing with earlier studies that "a full-scale nuclear attack would be suicidal for the country which decides to carry out such an attack."
"The use of nuclear weapons in this manner by the United States and Russia would have disastrous consequences globally. To completely remove the possibility of an environmental catastrophe as a result of a full‐scale nuclear war, decision makers must have a full understanding of the grave climatic consequences of nuclear war and act accordingly," the authors said, though the paper does not look at how survivable such an event would be for humanity.
We currently have an estimated 15,000 nukes stored up across the world. Recent studies have found that just 100 or so warheads could plunge the world into nuclear winter, which could claim up to 1 billion lives.
"Ultimately, the reduction of nuclear arsenals and the eventual disarmament of all nuclear capable parties are needed," the authors conclude.