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How Would a Nuclear Winter Play Out? 27 Jan 23

It is theorized that a nuclear war can have a cooling effect on Earth because of the dust and smoke a catastrophic event of this magnitude would create. Could humanity survive such an ordeal?

For an event so disastrous and dark, we sure love talking about nuclear war. Whenever there is a tension between the world’s superpowers, the topic seems to pop up again. With the recent war in Ukraine, the possibility of nuclear weapons being used again is on the table and the mass hysteria surrounding it has made a comeback. It’s many depictions in pop culture, like 1964’s Dr. Strangelove and recent Fallout games are now more culturally relevant than ever. 

We still haven’t stopped worrying about the bomb, and considering what might come after a nuclear war, it is highly unlikely that we will stop anytime soon. 

This is Imagine That and today we are going to imagine how a nuclear winter would play out.

Ever since humankind’s most dangerous invention was used in a war when the United States dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity has been burdened with the responsibility of wielding enough power to destroy whole cities.

These were devastating events that caused the deaths of nearly 200,000 people and the effects of them were felt long after the war was over. It might seem hard to imagine a worse disaster than this, but sadly, the potential for a bigger disaster is considerably higher now. Currently, there are nearly 12,705 reported nuclear warheads in the world held by 20 different nations. And that number doesn’t even include nuclear weapons that have been considered lost. There are now more than 100 nuclear weapons that are rumored to be missing, some of which are small enough to fit into a backpack.

What makes things worse is the fact that nuclear weapons are now much, much stronger than they were back in 1945. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested, the Tsar Bomb, yields a power of 50 megatons. That is 3,333 times more powerful than Little Boy, which was dropped on Hiroshima.

But that’s not even the end of it. A prototype of a different Tsar Bomb is said to have a blast yield of 100 megatons. A bomb so powerful that if it were ever to be dropped on a major city, let’s say London, it would completely wipe it off the map and the effects from the blast would be felt in cities like Cambridge, Oxford, and Brighton.

For a long time, we thought the damage that nuclear weapons cause would be limited to the blast and the radioactive fallout. But this notion changed when a team of scientists including Carl Sagan and J. B. Pollack released their paper, Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions. In the paper, the group theorized that the long-term effect of nuclear war might be much worse than we could ever imagine. 

The dust cloud that a 5000-megaton nuclear war might cause and the added smoke coming from the fires in cities was theorized to cause long-term changes in the earth’s atmosphere. The generated dust and smoke can encircle and envelope the earth, limiting the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth’s surface. This would cause a drastic drop in the earth’s temperatures, between 15 to 25 degrees Celsius, causing a nuclear winter. Even without the temperatures dropping, this dust and smoke mass can spell the end of humanity, as without proper sunlight, agriculture will likely come to a screeching halt. 

We might be at the top of the food chain, but the sun is at the bottom of it. This means any plant that gets its energy from the sun and any animal that might feed on these plants, including us humans, will slowly but surely run out of food. Without plants and livestock to feed us, humans that survive a potential nuclear war will depend on food stockpiles. But these supplies are unlikely to get us far. In the early months, remaining humans would have to start relying on hunting and fishing. But even that wouldn’t last long, as without sunlight, the delicate balance of our world’s ecosystem would be disrupted. Wild animals would have a hard time adapting to scarcity of food and drastic changes in the weather would make oceans considerably colder, wiping out the fish population quickly. 

It is theorized that a nuclear winter could last up to 25 years and we don’t know if this would be the end of humanity or not. Because the human kind actually survived an ice age in the past. But this was only possible because Africa was not affected by the ice age as much as the other continents. When you factor in the lack of sunlight, our fate becomes grimmer.

Some people will surely survive a possible nuclear war and the winter that might come after it. There are already fallout shelters all over the world that will be the only safe havens. And they will likely be saved for the richest and most influential people. Which makes you question if we should ever stop worrying. 

Luckily, we are fully aware of the dangers of a large-scale nuclear war nowadays and this fact contributed to the uneasy stalemate between the superpowers. So, maybe the possibility of nuclear winter is almost a good thing. In the end, self-preservation might be the only thing that stops nuclear powers from doing the unthinkable. Because once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to put it back in.

January 28, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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