Get access
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences



[1] Twenty years ago, the results of climate model simulations of the response to smoke and dust from a massive nuclear exchange between the superpowers could be summarized as “nuclear winter,” with rapid temperature, precipitation, and insolation drops at the surface that would threaten global agriculture for at least a year. The global nuclear arsenal has fallen by a factor of three since then, but there has been an expansion of the number of nuclear weapons states, with additional states trying to develop nuclear arsenals. We use a modern climate model to reexamine the climate response to a range of nuclear wars, producing 50 and 150 Tg of smoke, using moderate and large portions of the current global arsenal, and find that there would be significant climatic responses to all the scenarios. This is the first time that an atmosphere-ocean general circulation model has been used for such a simulation and the first time that 10-year simulations have been conducted. The response to the 150 Tg scenario can still be characterized as “nuclear winter,” but both produce global catastrophic consequences. The changes are more long-lasting than previously thought, however, because the new model, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies ModelE, is able to represent the atmosphere up to 80 km, and simulates plume rise to the middle and upper stratosphere, producing a long aerosol lifetime. The indirect effects of nuclear weapons would have devastating consequences for the planet, and continued nuclear arsenal reductions will be needed before the threat of nuclear winter is removed from the Earth.

Get access to the full text of this article