December 1, 2022


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Nuclear war and its consequences.  How will the seas and oceans react?

Nuclear war and its consequences. How will the seas and oceans react?

We can learn that the effects will be devastating from experiments and simulations conducted over the years. However, researchers have devoted little space to the reaction of seas and oceans to nuclear war. The findings covering this area are therefore of particular interest.

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In 1982, scientists led by Carl Sagan began to warn of a climate catastrophe caused by a possible conflict on an international scale, in which weapons of mass destruction would be used. Using simulations and simple data from historical volcanic eruptions, researchers have shown how smoke rising into the stratosphere can block out the sun for years. This, in turn, can lead to starvation, regardless of geographic location.

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, then leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union, cited this work when they declared that a nuclear war could not be won. Decades later, Tyler Rore, Cheryl Harrison, Kim Shearer, and Ryan Heneghan are back on the case. Their findings suggest that nuclear war could disrupt the climate system and cause global famine. As for marine and oceanic ecosystems, their functioning may be disrupted for thousands of years.

A nuclear war will change the seas and oceans of our planet for many years

The authors considered a scenario in which there is a conflict between the United States and Russia. 150 billion tons of soot would then be released into the upper atmosphere, which would translate into a decrease in the amount of sunlight reaching the surface, as well as lower global temperatures. Sea ice, which will increase its surface area, will benefit from that. Ice-free areas usually lose access to resources and freedom of movement.

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After three years of war, sea ice in the Arctic has increased by 50%, reaching and covering the Baltic Sea for an entire year. Even in a less severe scenario, where 27 to 47 billion tons of soot are released into the atmosphere, the chances of shipping in this region would be greatly reduced. Marine algae will begin to die, starving marine and oceanic creatures, as well as all those that use underwater resources.

The Arctic and North Atlantic waters will suffer the most. From there, it’s not far from a global economic meltdown – although fishing isn’t particularly strong in this region. Even worse, it could take hundreds or even thousands of years to return to normal. It seems somewhat reassuring that marine ecosystems can relatively quickly outpace pre-war conditions. why? Well, because permanent changes in ocean circulation are flushing nutrients from the depths. If light begins to reach the surface of our planet again, phytoplankton can use these nutrients for rapid growth. In Europe, unfortunately, we will not see such a rapid improvement.

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Water in the seas and oceans heats up and cools very slowly. These cabinets are clearly divided into tiers. As a result, any changes, although they occurred relatively late, are also reversible at a much slower pace than we might expect. So if there are no arguments to criticize the nuclear war vision, scientists have made more.