Nuclear war would cause global famine

Even a regional nuclear conflict would devastate crop production

Aug 15, 2022 - by Staff

A full-scale nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia would have such profound effects on global food production that it would result in the deaths of more than 5 billion people, new research finds. Even a more limited regional nuclear war would result in widespread famine.

The study, led by Rutgers University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and co-authored by a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), looked at the effects of Sun-blocking soot on food supply. The soot would enter the atmosphere from firestorms ignited by the detonation of nuclear weapons.

The authors used the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model and Community Land Model to estimate the resulting impacts on the productivity of major crops on a country-by-country basis for a range of six nuclear war scenarios. They also examined projected changes to livestock pasture and global marine fisheries.

Under even the smallest scenario, a localized nuclear war between India and Pakistan, global average caloric production decreased 7 percent within five years of the conflict. In the largest war scenario tested – a full-scale U.S.-Russia nuclear conflict – global average caloric production decreased by about 90 percent three to four years after the fighting.

NCAR scientist Charles Bardeen, who co-authored the study, noted that advanced computer models, which simulate chemical, biological, and other aspects of the Earth system, are enabling scientists to learn more about the effects of extreme events. Future studies will look at the impact of ultraviolet radiation, which is projected to increase in the event of a nuclear war, on phytoplankton and crops.

"We have long known a nuclear war would be devastating, but the advances in modeling allow us to have a more detailed understanding of thee effects on the food supply and human health on both global and regional scales," Bardeen said.

The study was published this week in Nature Food. See the Rutgers University news release and the University of Colorado at Boulder news release.


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