Join 3,417 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Alas! regardless of their doom, the little victims play!
April 9, 2008 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Limited nuclear war would damage ozone layer. Apart from the human devastation, a small-scale nuclear war between India and Pakistan would destroy much of the ozone layer, leaving the DNA of humans and other organisms at risk of damage from the Sun's rays, say researchers at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. Michael Mills at the LASP and his colleagues used computer models to study how 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs would affect the atmosphere. They say that their scenario – in which each country launches 50 devices of 15 kilotons – is realistic, given the countries' nuclear arsenals. "The figure of 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs compares pretty accurately to the approximately 110 warheads that both states reportedly possess between them," agrees Wyn Bowen, professor of non-proliferation and international security in the War Studies Group at King's College, UK. Here is an earlier 2006 report by Michael Mills about the devastating effect even a limited nuclear war would have on the ozone layer.
posted by KokuRyu (55 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
"both" states?
posted by phrontist at 12:29 PM on April 9, 2008


...the devastating effect even a limited nuclear war would have on the ozone layer.

This is a parody, right?
posted by DU at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2008


Between the two states, "both" India and Pakistan possess a (cumulative) total of 110 warheads.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder what 3.5 million gallons of oil are doing daily to the ozone layer...
posted by infini at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit disturbed that someone even thought to ask the question in the first place.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:40 PM on April 9, 2008


What effect would limited nuclear war have on my stock portfolio?
posted by besotted at 12:41 PM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


The implication of this report is that even a "limited" nuclear war will have a profound and catastrophic effect on the planet, far worse (in the very short term) than the risks posed by climate change.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:43 PM on April 9, 2008


This sucks.

I had previously been completely in favor of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Now, armed with this disturbing information, I am completely against it.
posted by flarbuse at 12:46 PM on April 9, 2008 [12 favorites]


So, if I understand this right, the nuclear winter will balance out the global warming?
posted by no_moniker at 12:47 PM on April 9, 2008


No no, it means that even during a nuclear winter you will still get serious sunburn.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:48 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Damn, just when I was beginning to learn to love the bomb...
posted by no_moniker at 12:49 PM on April 9, 2008


The implication of this report is that even a "limited" nuclear war will have a profound and catastrophic effect on the planet, far worse (in the very short term) than the risks posed by climate change.

I think that they shouldn't have one, then.
posted by besotted at 12:51 PM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


What effect would limited nuclear war have on my stock portfolio?

Are you in tech or frozen concentrated orange juice?
posted by fusinski at 12:53 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


What are the chances of a limited nuclear war actually staying limited?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:55 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


fortunately, india and pakistan thoroughly enjoy hating each other, to the point where
bleachers have been erected on both borders for the citizens to further enjoy the
occasional skirmish. the hysteria accompanying the tensions between these two countries
is generated by western governments (who gave them the technology) and their allies in the media. the threat of nuclear war is safely at home in the U.S., just where it's always been. ask any jackass in any coffee shop in this country what to do with the middle east, for example, and he'll tell you to make a glass parking lot out of it. and he's serious about it, way beyond any indian or pakistani sentiment ever offered.
posted by kitchenrat at 12:58 PM on April 9, 2008


I think one should read this more along the lines of 'The effects of a limited nuclear exchange could be far more catastrophic to the entire world than originally thought.'
posted by batou_ at 1:04 PM on April 9, 2008


I wonder what 3.5 million gallons of oil are doing daily to the ozone layer...

Um, nothing? Unless oil contains CFCs now.

Also, how many nukes got set off above ground during the above ground nuclear testing era? Seems like it was quite a few.
posted by delmoi at 1:05 PM on April 9, 2008


100 bombs is "limited" nuclear war?

Oh for fucking out loud.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:06 PM on April 9, 2008


Where have you guys been? How about two Hiroshima-sized bombs every day, 365 days a year, for 36 years? Would that have an effect?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:07 PM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Let me get this straight. Are you saying that a nuclear war would have negative effects?
posted by zaelic at 1:08 PM on April 9, 2008


A modern American's perspective: During World War II, it was really only a matter of chance that the United States developed the atomic bomb before Nazi Germany did. Then there was the nuclear standoff between the USA and the Soviet Union, which peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis but lingered until the collapse of the USSR. Close on the heels of that, the next nuclear threat came from the Middle East, from rogue terrorists who might want to blow us up with an old Soviet missile or a suitcase nuke.

From my point of view, the possibility of nuclear war or nuclear winter has always involved or targeted the United States. How odd it would be if the atomic holocaust were to play out between two other countries on the other side of the world, and have nothing to do with us at all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's 29,200 Hiroshimas, to be more precise.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:13 PM on April 9, 2008


You guys laugh all you want, but I'm in my basement with some tasty weed, 30 pounds of trail mix, and my copy of "Farnham's Freehold".
posted by Dizzy at 1:43 PM on April 9, 2008


This is stupid. It will totally blow their carbon offsets for a few years. Perhaps they could secure a major corporate sponsor for the war to recover some of those costs. In the balance, perhaps the loss of millions of Indians and Pakistanis would mean they might produce less carbon in the future. One could only hope. Toyota is lobbying for nuclear as it would provide a good marketing platform for the Prius. India and Pakistan have not said if they would consider waging a conventional war, as they are better for the environment and are more easily televised. It would also be longer and more drawn out and CNN's viewership would go up for at least a quarter, until the west became disenfranchised. Disenfranchisement is projected to be 20% quicker now that the writer's strike is over. 30 Rock consistently gets better market share than foreign warfare. An analyst for NBC has suggested that conventional war in the Americas would perhaps garner more market share. A focus group in Bar Harbour, Maine agrees. Unfortunately it's a bad time zone for viewers in North America but this can be managed. A market analysis would be required to determine if it would be the first major conflict on the Indian sub-continent to be covered in 1080p. Blu-ray distribution rights shouldn't be too hard to secure now that it's the accepted format. Currently India and Pakistan are in negotiation with Werner Herzog for exclusive rights to the feature-length documentary, but Herzog will only do it if the war is waged using 40% post-consumer waste. It is believed that Uwe Boll offered 25% but this cannot be confirmed at this hour.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:48 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sure this will convince Pakistan and India to give up their nuclear weapons.
posted by Dasein at 1:52 PM on April 9, 2008


As time passes, I worry that it's increasingly likely that we might see a limited nuclear exchange in our lifetime. We saw the kind of massive retaliatory reaction that America had to 3,000 or so dead seven years ago, just imagine if someone had detonated a small nuke in New York.

Once that happens, the country who was on the receiving end of it is going to feel justified in retaliating. And once you use nukes, you've eliminated the possibility of a measured response:

"They hit us with a nuclear weapon! The only way we can be sure they don't do it again, is to retaliate with our nuclear arsenal to ensure that their production facilities are destroyed"

For most of my childhood, I lived under the assumption that our world would end in a nuclear exchange between the Soviets and the United States (The Day After and Megadeth both told me so). After the collapse of the USSR it seemed that threat was over, but paradoxically, I think it might have actually increased the chances that a nuclear weapon would get used. Because the specter of mutually assured destruction was more or less removed from the equation.

I sure hope I'm wrong.
posted by quin at 1:52 PM on April 9, 2008


How odd it would be if the atomic holocaust were to play out between two other countries on the other side of the world, and have nothing to do with us at all.

My favorite part of the movie WarGames is when the computer starts playing out the hundreds (thousands?) of different simulations of global thermonuclear war:

India / Pakistan War
Mediterranean War
Hong Kong Variant
SEATO Decapitating
Cuban Provocation
Atlantic Heavy
Cuban Paramilitary
Sudan Surprise
NATO Territorial
Zaire Alliance
Icelandic Incident
Middle East Heavy
Mexican Takeover
Chad Alert
Saudi Maneuver
Cambodian Heavy
Pact Medium
...


Note which one the filmmakers put right at the top of the list after the initial U.S.-U.S.S.R. variants...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:58 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now, armed with this disturbing information, I am completely against it.

"Fire the missiles Protap, we will teach those Pakistani devils a lesson."

"But sir. Recent research suggests that even a limited nuclear exchange with our hated enemy would damage the ozone layer."

"Really? More than refrigerators? You know I got rid of my old refrigerator so I've been doing my part. Ozone is important you know."

"More than refrigerators, sir. Look at the curves."

"Damn."
posted by three blind mice at 1:58 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most of us atheists will find having a nuclear war distasteful or even insulting towards our beliefs. So please be respectful and don't do it here.
posted by Free word order! at 2:04 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Perhaps a dense question, but if the worldwide damage from a Indian-Pakistani nuclear conflict would be mostly due to the carbon released by burning cities, why didn't all of the carpet bombing of WW2 decimate the ozone layer fifty years ago?
posted by bunnytricks at 2:08 PM on April 9, 2008


As cited above, we were testing nukes every day for years and years, and detonated more than the hypothetical limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

And then, once we had apparently done all that damage to the Ozone layer with our nuclear weapons, they came and told us all it was our fault for using spray bottles and driving cars with air conditioning.

And they do the same thing with CO2 emissions as well. They tell us that it's our fault for driving cars, when stationary sources are belching emissions of every kind 24/7. Jerks.
posted by The World Famous at 2:10 PM on April 9, 2008


leaving the DNA of humans and other organisms at risk of damage from the Sun's rays

Wait, the Sun fucks with my DNA?

"DNA damage – including skin cancer and cataracts – due to increased influx of ultraviolet rays would increase in humans and other animals by 213%."

Oh. Skin cancer. Right. I'm 100% Irish and every location in my state is no more than 30 minutes from a beach. I'm very aware of the threat of skin cancer.

I thought we'd grow extra limbs or something.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 2:14 PM on April 9, 2008


[Groucho]
I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it.

I'm opposed to it,
On general principle, I'm opposed to it.

[chorus] He's opposed to it.
In fact, indeed, that he's opposed to it!

[Groucho]
For months before my son was born,
I used to yell from night to morn,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And I've kept yelling since I first commenced it,
I'm against it!
posted by lekvar at 2:16 PM on April 9, 2008


That's 29,200 Hiroshimas, to be more precise.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:13 PM on April 9 [+] [!]


Eponysterical!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2008


Perhaps a dense question, but if the worldwide damage from a Indian-Pakistani nuclear conflict would be mostly due to the carbon released by burning cities, why didn't all of the carpet bombing of WW2 decimate the ozone layer fifty years ago?

Two possible reasons:

The number of fires, and thus the amount of soot, from a "limited" nuclear exchange, would be greater on an order of magnitude than the firebombing of cities during WWII. There would be more soot. Also, because of the energy released during all those nuclear explosions, the soot would travel higher in the atmosphere. As well, the tremendous heat and radiation produced during nuclear explosions, and at such great heights, would also affect the ozone layer.

Although it seems that there have been a large number of open-air nuclear tests since the dawn of the nuclear age, these have all occurred over a long period of time. A nuclear war would release of this energy during one moment in time. Plus, none of the atmospheric (or other) testing as resulted in a firestorm that has destroyed an entire city, let alone dozens of cities.

Despite what others have said in this thread, a limited nuclear exchange would be something entirely new, at least in the context of affecting the ozone layer, which makes life on earth possible.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2008


Finally, a reason NOT to have a nuclear war.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apart from that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
posted by klangklangston at 2:28 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, after this war, I'll be just like Master Blaster, or some variant thereof?

Lift the embargo!
posted by Brocktoon at 2:29 PM on April 9, 2008


only on mefi would this topic be a top-to-bottom lulzfest
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 2:55 PM on April 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Teh LULZ don't come from the prospect of a limited nuclear engagement between two parties. That would be horrible and is to be hoped against by all sane and rational beings. Teh LULZ come from "OMG water is WET! This changes everything!!!!one!"
posted by lekvar at 3:21 PM on April 9, 2008


"OMG water is WET! This changes everything!!!!one!"

Well, I hate to break it to you, but not everyone knows that water is wet. That is, not everyone is aware that even a limited nuclear exchange would most likely doom life on planet earth.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:28 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sudan Surprise

Mmm... delicious!
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:29 PM on April 9, 2008


I don't understand the word limited in situations like these.

It's like when I go to a 7-11 in the middle of the night for snacks and the cash register has a sign on it that says "limited cash on premises" and then I stand there thinking about a hypothetical cash register that could hold unlimited cash and whether there are thieves that that rob convenience store after convenience store in search of this bottomless cash register destined to be forever disapointed and then the guy behind the counter says, "uh, dude?" and I put my snacks on the counter and pay and leave.
posted by ODiV at 3:33 PM on April 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


Well, I hate to break it to you, but not everyone knows that water is wet. That is, not everyone is aware that even a limited nuclear exchange would most likely doom life on planet earth.

Well, if most people aren't aware of that, it's because it's completely wrong. In fact, most people have a seriously exaggerated impression of how bad a nuclear war would be for humanity. Even at the height of the Cold War, a full nuclear exchange would not have ended human life on earth, though it would have ended quite a lot of it.
posted by Dasein at 4:52 PM on April 9, 2008


Seconding the gripe on use of "limited."

The figures used assume that both states use all of their nuclear warheads. How is that "limited" in any way, other than perhaps in comparison to the old saw of a US-USSR global thermonuclear war?
posted by rokusan at 5:18 PM on April 9, 2008


Dasein hit the nail on the head. With regard to the exaggeration of the effects of nuclear war in this thread: Is anybody best served by exaggeration about such an important threat? Isn't it a bit like refusing to tell pre-teens the truth about sex -- doing them a disservice, resulting in worse decisions on their part?

Here are some of the claims I've heard about nuclear war (not all of which have been repeated here). Nuclear war will:

...destroy the earth; kill all life on earth; make the planet uninhabitable; kill all the people on earth; kill everyone living in the nations attacked; cause permanent genetic damage to many species.

None of those claims are supported by science. They're all exaggerations of the true (devastatingly horrible) effects of nuclear weapons. And given that there is so much exaggeration, isn't it good that scientists are building better models to predict how much damage could actually be caused? And is it really such a big deal that they're modeling a smaller scenario?

That said, I'm a fan of absurdist humor, and I understand and appreciate the tasty snark leavening this discussion. And I hope it goes without saying I'm against nuclear warfa -- oh, heck, I'll say it: I think nuclear war is terrible and we should avoid it. But that's no reason not to study it and honestly discuss its impact.
posted by sdodd at 5:32 PM on April 9, 2008


only on mefi would this topic be a top-to-bottom lulzfest

I found myself wondering about the ages of the commenters, actually. My pulled-out-of-my-ass guess was that maybe the people who don't find it as amusing (OK, everything's amusing, I know, but) might be old bastards like me, who were in their teens and twenties in the early eighties, when it really did seem like global nuclear holocaust was quite plausibly just around the corner, and for whom that Big Fear when they were growing up still lingers, but that younger people, who've never really had to worry too much about it (though arguably the risk isn't all that much lower, if we look at it clear-eyed), are all LOL nukez suXXor amirite!

I don't know. I really did believe there was a good chance the world was gonna go kablooie when I was, like, 18, back in ol' '83.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:06 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"That's 29,200 Hiroshimas, to be more precise."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:13 PM on April 9

Yes, but to be fair, w-gp, of the estimated total of 439 megatons of atmospheric tests, more than 10% was released in a single 1961 Soviet test. The damage done to the world environment by atmospheric thermonuclear hydrogen weapons of that scale was demonstrably much greater than the series of small 1 and 2 kiloton tests run by the U.S., to confirm designs for small tactical nukes like the "Atomic Annie" nuclear cannon, the Mk54 "Davy Crockett," and revamped, higher reliability first stage designs for later generation weapons for ICBM MIRV warheads.

Film and video of these "battlefield nuke" tests show that the smoke plumes from these small scale devices did not come anywhere near that described by the authors of the FPP'd studies, as baseline assumptions for their simulations. Nasty little things though they were, many of the U.S. test devices did not, individually, do appreciable long term ecological damage, of planetary scale. So, because of wildly varying yield distribution of test devices, it's not exactly accurate to think of the world's historic atmospheric testing load as "29,200 Hiroshimas."
posted by paulsc at 6:11 PM on April 9, 2008


Hey Stavros, I was pretty concerned about nuclear war when I was 14 and 15, right before the soviet union disbanded. I read this one book "The Day After World War III" cover to cover about three times in a row.
posted by autodidact at 6:11 PM on April 9, 2008


It is an overlooked irony of 9/11. There were escalating anger, conflict, and attacks between the Indians and Pakistani. Then came 9/11, and suddenly Bush needed to be really good friends with Pakistan. Lots of built up anger and conflict was tossed aside by Bush with promises of lots and lots of money and support and intense behind the scenes diplomacy. So in creating the quagmire in the Middle East, he accidentally reduced a major conflict along the India/Pakistan border.

Of course it is only a matter of time before this, or some similar conflict re-emerges among small nuclear armed nations.
posted by eye of newt at 9:52 PM on April 9, 2008


None of those claims are supported by science. They're all exaggerations of the true (devastatingly horrible) effects of nuclear weapons.

Actually, the science linked to in this FPP *does* support the claim that human life on earth would be ended by a nuclear exchange. This is not an exaggeration, and was the point of the FPP. Even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons will most likely end human civilization. Science supports this - read the article in the post.

As for folks who have a gripe about the use of "limited" in the context of a nuclear war, it's the nomenclature, and the term is useful for distinguishing between different kinds of nuclear attack (think tactical vs strategic):

The first, a limited nuclear war (sometimes attack or exchange), refers to a small scale use of nuclear weapons by one or more parties. A "limited nuclear war" would most likely consist of a limited exchange between two nuclear superpowers targeting each other's military facilities, either as an attempt to pre-emptively cripple the enemy's ability to attack as a defensive measure or as a prelude to an invasion by conventional forces as an offensive measure. It will also refer to a nuclear war between minor nuclear powers, who lack the ability to deliver a decisive strike. This term would apply to any limited use of nuclear weapons, which may involve either military or civilian targets.

The second, a full-scale nuclear war, consists of large numbers of weapons used in an attack aimed at an entire country, including both military and civilian targets. Such an attack would seek to destroy the entire economic, social, and military infrastructure of a nation by means of an overwhelming nuclear attack.

posted by KokuRyu at 9:53 PM on April 9, 2008



What effect would limited nuclear war have on my stock portfolio?
--besotted

The richest man in California during the gold rush knew about the gold early, but didn't go after it. Instead he bought all of the shovel companies and stores in San Francisco. If this report is accurate, I recommend buying stock in companies that make sun block.

I imagine a world in which we are all like vampires--only coming out at night when the sun has gone down. There would soon be no one left with light colored skin. This would make an interesting Charleton Heston type science fiction movie.
posted by eye of newt at 9:55 PM on April 9, 2008


That is, not everyone is aware that even a limited nuclear exchange would most likely doom life on planet earth.

That would doom human life, maybe, but there are species of bacteria which are radiation-hardened, and life undersea that would once again thrive. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing for the universe, if evolution gets to roll the dice with another less psychotic species?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:29 PM on April 9, 2008


We had a good run, I for one welcome our new radiation immuned bacteria and dolphin overloads. Seriously tho, this study is like saying cutting off your arm is bad for you. DUH! After a limited nuclear war the planet would never be the same. Regardless if it fawks up the ozone, spread radiation everywhere, or kills 1000's if not millions of innocent people. We should find an environmentally friendly way to kill tons of people without hurting the planet.... forget the oil crisis, screw global warming, fawk feeding the hungry! Get me a bomb that will kill in an eco-friendly way NOW....
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:34 AM on April 10, 2008


paulsc wrote: Yes, but to be fair, w-gp, of the estimated total of 439 megatons of atmospheric tests, more than 10% was released in a single 1961 Soviet test.

Yes, but since it was almost entirely fusion, it was a relatively clean blast, in terms of fallout. The megatonnage doesn't really matter, beyond blast and heat effects. What causes long term environmental damage is the fallout. (and apparently the resultant fires, according to the article) Although if the models are correct, wouldn't the burning of the rain forests to clear land be causing significant ozone depletion?

It's not as if the entirety of India and Pakistan would go up in flames, even with 100 nukes. While they are incredibly powerful and nothing to be trifled with, they aren't that destructive.

It's worse for the cause of sanity on the subject to proclaim that an exchange between India and Pakistan would doom all life on earth, or even all human life. A full scale exchange between the US and Russia (or worse, the US and USSR back when we each had most of 10 thousand warheads!) would probably come close. Even then I have little doubt that some pockets of humanity would survive, just not likely in the northern hemisphere.

Life has survived much worse onslaughts than anything we humans can do. That's not to say that we aren't capable of easily destroying ourselves, or certainly any semblance of what most of us consider to be civilization.
posted by wierdo at 3:09 AM on April 11, 2008


« Older Stephen King weighs in on the videogame debate....  |  The intersect of data visualiz... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments