Nuclear Winter

What is Nuclear Winter?

Nuclear winter is the outcome of a nuclear war. It is an estimated climate condition following a nuclear war that would cause immeasurable amounts of soot and dust in the atmosphere which would remain there for months to years.

Nuclear winter is believed to have caused an imbalance in the ecosystem. Scientists suspect nuclear wars to be responsible for various environmental hazards such as drastic climatic fluctuations, nuclear summer, depletion of the ozone layer etc. The ozone layer around the earth acts as a filter and protects all the living entities from various harmful rays such as ultraviolet radiations which are known to cause skin cancers and other serious health hazards.

The blockage of sunlight as a result of these nuclear wars would have an impact, as a combination of darkness, radiation and cold and dismantling of world infrastructure could wipe away a considerable amount of plant and animal life, which would have a greater impact on the human ecosystem.

Nuclear winter, as a result of nuclear warfare, affects humans more than any other living entity, such as inhaling the polluted air and hence newer medical ailments, effects of thermal radiation or loss of life. On the whole, its effects are adverse. It has also believed to have affected the crops globally as deterioration in the quality of the soil leads to irradiation.

Few other consequences assumed to have emerged are a decline in the annual rainfall, the drastic cooling of surface temperatures, a rise in sea levels.

The term nuclear winter pertains to the cooling or winter-like climatic conditions around the year which has consequences on living entities. The smoke emitted from the nuclear firestorms has the potential to traverse higher in the atmospheric region and stay for longer which are predicted by the advanced climatic models used in the nuclear winter research.

See Also: Ecosystem

Types of Nuclear Winter

Sunlight through the clouds heat up the atmospheric nitrogen oxides. At higher temperatures, the oxides of nitrogen deplete the ozone at alarmingly higher rates than usual.

Nuclear theorists came up with 6 types of nuclear winter which aims at providing a definite structure to understand the repercussions of warfare, which are as follows:

Marginal nuclear winter

Some nuclear weapons in modern warfare setup could significantly have an effect on lowering the temperatures, impact the agricultural production leading to famines and droughts. A larger portion of the ash generated precipitates on the earth, while the rest stays up in the atmosphere.

Minimal nuclear winter

A small attack causing a minimal cloud cover with almost negligible environmental impact affecting the targeted area only.

Nominal nuclear winter

The targeted area usually witnesses droughts, dark skies, fluctuation in the global temperature, sunlight in the noon would be affected. In the course of time, the sun would burn hotter as a result of evaporation of clouds. Solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth would be the highest due to nuclear blasts.

Severe nuclear winter

Extreme reduction in the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the earth, stretched across months resulting in freezing temperature globally which drastically affects the photosynthesis process.

Substantial nuclear winter

Colder temperatures, pollution, depletion of the ozone layer, reduced rainfall levels. Plants would be deprived of sunlight in turn affecting the photosynthetic process, yielding little to no agricultural products which could be fatal for the living entities. This would lead to extinction and hence a huge imbalance in the biodiversity.

Extreme nuclear winter

Extreme darkness throughout, affecting normal life on earth and impeding survival.

Effects of Nuclear Winter

Following are the effects of nuclear winter that could be experienced by humans post-nuclear war.

Climatic effects

Even a small scale nuclear war can disrupt the global climate for a number of years. Researchers have estimated that at least five tons of soot will be released that will produce cooling of several degrees. This cooling would last for years and would be catastrophic.

Depletion of Ozone Layer

Nuclear detonations break down the air around them and produce large amounts of nitrogen oxides. These move upwards by thermal conventions and reach the stratosphere. These nitrogen oxides catalytically breakdown the ozone present in this layer of atmosphere. Depletion of the ozone layer causes the harmful ultraviolet radiations to reach the earth’s surface.

Also, the soot produced would absorb the solar radiations and increase the breakdown of the ozone layer.

Nuclear Summer

It is the period followed by nuclear winter where the temperatures rise enormously. A greenhouse effect is created due to the emission of carbon dioxide and combustion of methane due to the decay of organic matter and frozen corpses during nuclear winter. This would increase the earth’s temperature manifold that would cause the death of most of the living organisms that survived nuclear winters.

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