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Climatic Consequences of Nuclear Conflict: Nuclear Winter Still a Threat

January 27, 2015, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Location Science Hall - 102 the Sokol Room
Posted InCollege of Science and Mathematics
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A nuclear war between any two nations with each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs as airbursts on urban areas would inject so much smoke from the resulting fires into the stratosphere that the climate change would be unprecedented in recorded human history. Climate model simulations find that the smoke would absorb sunlight, making it dark, cold, and dry at Earth’s surface and produce global-scale ozone depletion, with enhanced ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Crop models show that it would reduce agricultural production by 10-40% for a decade. The impact of the nuclear war simulated here, using much less than 1% of the global nuclear arsenal, could sentence a billion people now living marginal existences to starvation.

The greatest nuclear threat still comes from the United States and Russia. Even the reduced arsenals that will remain in 2017 after the New START treaty threaten the world with nuclear winter. The world as we know it could end any day as a result of an accidental nuclear war between the United States and Russia. With temperatures plunging below freezing, crops would die and massive starvation could kill most of humanity. The environmental and humanitarian impacts of the use of even a small number of nuclear weapons must be considered in nuclear policy deliberations.

About Dr. Alan Robock, Rutgers University

Alan Robock is a Distinguished Professor of climate science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. He also directs the Rutgers Undergraduate Meteorology Program. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1970 with a B.A. in Meteorology, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an S.M. in 1974 and Ph.D. in 1977, both in Meteorology. Before graduate school, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. He was a professor at the University of Maryland, 1977-1997, and the State Climatologist of Maryland, 1991-1997, before coming to Rutgers. He serves as Editor of Reviews of Geophysics, the most highly-cited journal in the Earth Sciences. His honors include being a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society (AMS), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and recipient of the AMS Jule G. Charney Award. Prof. Robock is a Lead Author of the 2013 Working Group 1 Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.