New study focuses on the impact of nuclear war on the oceans

Changes to Arctic sea ice could persist for hundreds or thousands of years

Jul 8, 2022 - by Laura Snider

New research finds that nuclear war would devastate the ocean, causing a steep drop in water temperature, collapsing the marine food web, and spurring significant growth of Arctic sea ice. Some changes, including the state of sea ice, could linger for hundreds or thousands of years after the smoke clears, according to a study published in the journal AGU Advances. 

The research team was led by Louisiana State University (LSU) researcher Cheryl Harrison and includes three co-authors from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR): Alice DuVivier, Scott Bachman, and Charles Bardeen.

Scientists have long understood that a significant nuclear conflict would cause a “nuclear winter.” Smoke and soot lofted high into the atmosphere would block sunlight and significantly cool the Earth. The new research, which relies on detailed simulations from the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model, focuses specifically on the impacts to the ocean.

In the case of Arctic sea ice, a large nuclear war could precipitate a “nuclear little ice age.” Sea ice would thicken and expand dramatically, spreading south. The expansion is especially notable in the Pacific where the ice would stretch as far south as Shanghai. Sea ice would be present in the normally ice-free Sea of Japan, the South China Sea, the Caspian Sea dn the Baltic Seas in concentrations above 50%.

Researchers were also surprised to find that not only did the increase in sea ice persist for hundreds of years, the sea ice itself does not return to its original base state. Instead it appears to stabilize at a higher level.

“This new base state is outside the range of historical observations of sea ice,” said DuVivier, a sea ice expert. “It’s something we haven’t seen in human memory.”

Read the full press release from LSU

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