A confrontation with nuclear weapons is one of the worst scenarios that humanity can consider.
Therefore, even if there is no imminent threat Before that can happen, scientists constantly study the devastation that a conflict of this type would cause for the entire planet.
In 2019, for example, a simulation from Princeton University showed that a hypothetical nuclear war between Russia and the US would stop 34 million dead in a few hours.
Now, recent research led by Rutgers University in the US has focused on the catastrophic effects that would cause nuclear weapons in the oceans.
The results are chilling, but experts agree that this type of academic exercise can be one more way to talk out to the countries that one day use their nuclear arsenal.
Although the subject is surrounded by secrecy, it is estimated that in the world there are more than 14,000 nuclear weaponsaccording to the Stockholm International Peace Studies Institute (SIPRI).
What were the results of this research and why did it focus on the oceans?
In search of food
Previous research has shown that radioactive fallout and the blocking of sunlight caused by the explosion of atomic weapons would dramatically reduce agricultural production and land for crops, which in turn would cause a famine of great dimensions.
Faced with this hypothetical scenario, the Rutgers researchers analyzed the possibility of using the oceans to get the food that would no longer be available on land.
The result of the study, however, is disappointing.
“Is unlikely that resorting to that is a successful strategy, “the research indicates.
To reach this conclusion, the authors studied what would happen in the equatorial zone of the Pacific Ocean.
The simulations they carried out by computer showed that a nuclear war could unleash in this area “an unprecedented El Niño-like warming phenomenon.”
The effect of the bombs reduce the phytoplankton population by 40% in that area.
That, in turn, “could have an effect on larger organisms people consume, “according to research.
The simulations showed that the effects of “nuclear El Niño” could be felt during seven years.
During that time, drastic changes in water temperature and wind currents would occur, causing severe imbalances in the ecosystem.
“It’s like hitting the climate system with a big hammer”, as described in a US Geophysical Union article by Joshua Coupe, a meteorologist and marine scientist in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University and lead author of the study.
What is the El Niño phenomenon
El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific that has important consequences for the climate around the world, according to the National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA, for its acronym in English). .
This weather pattern periodically governs rains, droughts, floods, and storms across the Earth.
What we know as El Niño is actually just one of the phases of the so-called El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
This cycle is composed of a warm phase in which the temperature of the ocean water increases (El Niño), and a cold phase, in which the temperature of the water drops (La Niña).
These changes in the atmosphere and the ocean disrupt weather conditions, generating heavy rains or extreme droughts with serious consequences in various parts of the world.
Coupe and his team studied six hypothetical nuclear conflict scenarios: a large-scale confrontation between Russia and the United States, and five smaller-scale confrontations between India and Pakistan.
“Such wars could ignite huge fires that inject millions of tons of soot in the upper atmosphere, blocking sunlight and altering Earth’s climate, “says the research.
During the first year after a nuclear war, the temperature of the ocean surface water would rise.
Yet over the next six years, there would be just as poor sunlight due to soot, that the water would have a lower temperature than the normal average, according to what Joshua Coupe explains to BBC Mundo.
The cooling of the water and the atmosphere due to soot, in turn, would cause changes in the circulation of the ocean and the winds, causing water calida move from the western Pacific to the eastern Pacific.
“El Niño nuclear refers to this change in circulation, which is like a Child, “says Coupe.
According to the study estimates, the water temperature in some areas of the ocean could increase almost 4ºC.
All these changes would unleash an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Disruptions of winds, currents and temperature would prevent the rise of waters deeper than carry nutrients like phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain.
Also, the decrease in sunlight “would drastically reduce” photosynthesis of phytoplankton.
Finally, the drop in temperature caused by the nuclear El Niño would mean a severe reduced rainfall in the areas between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and equatorial Africa.
For Alan Robock, a professor in the department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University and a co-author of the study, the message that this apocalyptic panorama sends is overwhelming:
“If we want to safeguard our food and the Earth’s environment, we must avoid a nuclear conflict. “
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.