skip to main content
OSTI.GOV title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: Climate impact of a regional nuclear weapons exchange: An improved assessment based on detailed source calculations

Abstract

In this paper, we present a multi-scale study examining the impact of a regional exchange of nuclear weapons on global climate. Our models investigate multiple phases of the effects of nuclear weapons usage, including growth and rise of the nuclear fireball, ignition and spread of the induced firestorm, and comprehensive Earth system modeling of the oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere. This study follows from the scenario originally envisioned by Robock et al. (2007a), based on the analysis of Toon et al. (2007), which assumes a regional exchange between India and Pakistan of fifty 15-kiloton weapons detonated by each side. We expand this scenario by modeling the processes that lead to production of black carbon, in order to refine the black carbon forcing estimates of these previous studies. When the Earth system model is initiated with 5 × 10 9 kg of black carbon in the upper troposphere (approximately 9 to 13 km), the impact on climate variables such as global temperature and precipitation in our simulations is similar to that predicted by previously published work. However, while our thorough simulations of the firestorm produce about 3.7 × 10 9 kg of black carbon, we find that the vast majority ofmore » the black carbon never reaches an altitude above weather systems (approximately 12 km). Therefore, our Earth system model simulations conducted with model-informed atmospheric distributions of black carbon produce significantly lower global climatic impacts than assessed in prior studies, as the carbon at lower altitudes is more quickly removed from the atmosphere. In addition, our model ensembles indicate that statistically significant effects on global surface temperatures are limited to the first 5 years and are much smaller in magnitude than those shown in earlier works. None of the simulations produced a nuclear winter effect. We find that the effects on global surface temperatures are not uniform and are concentrated primarily around the highest arctic latitudes, dramatically reducing the global impact on human health and agriculture compared with that reported by earlier studies. Lastly, our analysis demonstrates that the probability of significant global cooling from a limited exchange scenario as envisioned in the previous studies is highly unlikely, a conclusion supported by examination of natural analogs, such as large forest fires and volcanic eruptions.« less

Authors:
 [1];  [1];  [1];  [1];  [1];  [1];  [1];  [1];  [1]
  1. Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA); USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
OSTI Identifier:
1422919
Report Number(s):
LA-UR-17-24932
Journal ID: ISSN 2169-897X
Grant/Contract Number:  
AC52-06NA25396
Resource Type:
Journal Article: Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 123; Journal Issue: 5; Journal ID: ISSN 2169-897X
Publisher:
American Geophysical Union
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
58 GEOSCIENCES

Citation Formats

Reisner, Jon Michael, D'Angelo, Gennaro, Koo, Eunmo, Even, Wesley Paul, Hecht, Matthew W., Hunke, Elizabeth Clare, Comeau, Darin Scott, Bos, Randall J., and Cooley, James Hamilton. Climate impact of a regional nuclear weapons exchange: An improved assessment based on detailed source calculations. United States: N. p., 2018. Web. doi:10.1002/2017JD027331.
Reisner, Jon Michael, D'Angelo, Gennaro, Koo, Eunmo, Even, Wesley Paul, Hecht, Matthew W., Hunke, Elizabeth Clare, Comeau, Darin Scott, Bos, Randall J., & Cooley, James Hamilton. Climate impact of a regional nuclear weapons exchange: An improved assessment based on detailed source calculations. United States. doi:10.1002/2017JD027331.
Reisner, Jon Michael, D'Angelo, Gennaro, Koo, Eunmo, Even, Wesley Paul, Hecht, Matthew W., Hunke, Elizabeth Clare, Comeau, Darin Scott, Bos, Randall J., and Cooley, James Hamilton. Tue . "Climate impact of a regional nuclear weapons exchange: An improved assessment based on detailed source calculations". United States. doi:10.1002/2017JD027331.
@article{osti_1422919,
title = {Climate impact of a regional nuclear weapons exchange: An improved assessment based on detailed source calculations},
author = {Reisner, Jon Michael and D'Angelo, Gennaro and Koo, Eunmo and Even, Wesley Paul and Hecht, Matthew W. and Hunke, Elizabeth Clare and Comeau, Darin Scott and Bos, Randall J. and Cooley, James Hamilton},
abstractNote = {In this paper, we present a multi-scale study examining the impact of a regional exchange of nuclear weapons on global climate. Our models investigate multiple phases of the effects of nuclear weapons usage, including growth and rise of the nuclear fireball, ignition and spread of the induced firestorm, and comprehensive Earth system modeling of the oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere. This study follows from the scenario originally envisioned by Robock et al. (2007a), based on the analysis of Toon et al. (2007), which assumes a regional exchange between India and Pakistan of fifty 15-kiloton weapons detonated by each side. We expand this scenario by modeling the processes that lead to production of black carbon, in order to refine the black carbon forcing estimates of these previous studies. When the Earth system model is initiated with 5 × 109 kg of black carbon in the upper troposphere (approximately 9 to 13 km), the impact on climate variables such as global temperature and precipitation in our simulations is similar to that predicted by previously published work. However, while our thorough simulations of the firestorm produce about 3.7 × 109 kg of black carbon, we find that the vast majority of the black carbon never reaches an altitude above weather systems (approximately 12 km). Therefore, our Earth system model simulations conducted with model-informed atmospheric distributions of black carbon produce significantly lower global climatic impacts than assessed in prior studies, as the carbon at lower altitudes is more quickly removed from the atmosphere. In addition, our model ensembles indicate that statistically significant effects on global surface temperatures are limited to the first 5 years and are much smaller in magnitude than those shown in earlier works. None of the simulations produced a nuclear winter effect. We find that the effects on global surface temperatures are not uniform and are concentrated primarily around the highest arctic latitudes, dramatically reducing the global impact on human health and agriculture compared with that reported by earlier studies. Lastly, our analysis demonstrates that the probability of significant global cooling from a limited exchange scenario as envisioned in the previous studies is highly unlikely, a conclusion supported by examination of natural analogs, such as large forest fires and volcanic eruptions.},
doi = {10.1002/2017JD027331},
journal = {Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres},
number = 5,
volume = 123,
place = {United States},
year = {Tue Feb 13 00:00:00 EST 2018},
month = {Tue Feb 13 00:00:00 EST 2018}
}

Journal Article:
Free Publicly Available Full Text
This content will become publicly available on February 13, 2019
Publisher's Version of Record

Save / Share: