Forgotten dangers

While much of the world worries about the creeping consequences of global warming, a group of scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Federation of American Scientists and a collection of universities have been studying the danger of rapid, global cooling.


Their examination focuses on the risks of nuclear war between Pakistan and India, two countries at war or on the verge of war for decades. They last battled in 1999 and fought a major conflict in 1971, the end result of which was East Pakistan breaking away to become Bangladesh.

Afterward, Pakistan vowed it would never lose another war with India.

“Unlike neighboring India and China, Pakistan does not have a ‘no first use’ doctrine,”  Kyle Mizokami writes at The National Interest, “and reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, particularly low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, to offset India’s advantage in conventional forces.

“The nuclear standoff is exacerbated by the traditional animosity between the two countries, the several wars the two countries have fought, and events such as the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, which were directed by Pakistan.”

Aware of the risks, scientists have now calculated what might happen if a full-scale, nuclear war broke out between the two countries. They predict it would spawn a planet-spanning “nuclear winter.”

Old fear

The fear of nuclear winter has disappeared from the thoughts of most Americans in the almost 40 years since scientists used the threat to push for agreement on international arms control.

“This shocking possibility (of nuclear winter), and the intense debate surrounding it, brought the insanity of the continuing nuclear arms race to the front burner,” researchers Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon later observed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “The scientific message, from research done jointly by American and Soviet scientists, was based on primitive computer models of the climate system, yet the physics were clear: If you block out enough sunlight, it gets cold, dark, and dry at the surface, and the destruction of the ozone layer allows deadly ultraviolet radiation to penetrate the atmosphere. The scientists’ models motivated U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to reach agreement on a nuclear arms reduction treaty.”

Nuclear winter has remained largely out of sight, out of mind since then despite the collapse and disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics and the rise of new tensions between its successor, the Russian Federation led by Vladimir Putin, and the U.S.

Relations between the two countries are today strained, but no one harbors major concerns about the sort of nuclear conflict feared at the height of the so-called “Cold War” in the 1960s and ’70s.

Still, some scientists see the threat of nuclear war very much alive in the Indian subcontinent.

“If India uses 100 strategic weapons to attack urban centers and Pakistan uses 150,” the researchers wrote, “fatalities could reach 50 to 125 million people, and nuclear-ignited fires could release 16 to 36 teragrams of black carbon in smoke, depending on yield. The smoke will rise into the upper troposphere, be self-lofted into the stratosphere, and spread globally within weeks. Surface sunlight will decline by 20 to 35 percent, cooling the global surface by 2° to 5° Celcius and reducing precipitation by 15 to 30 percent, with larger regional impacts. Recovery takes more than 10 years.”

Two to five degrees Celcius equals three-point-six to nine degrees Fahrenheit. The global warming to date is estimated at 1.5 degrees and projected to rise to up to 7.2 degrees by 2050, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), although the increase will not be uniform. The Arctic is expected to warm more than the rest of the globe.

A Pakistan-India ignited nuclear winter could, however, zero out all of that in a flash, according to the research.

Alaska experience

Residents of Alaska’s largest city thi summer got a tiny taste of what a nuclear winter might be like as forest fires raged to the north and south. Dense smoke sometimes blocked the heat of the warm, midnight sun and temperatures in Anchorage dropped noticeably at those times.

Smoke from forest fires doesn’t, however, begin to compare to what happens after a nuclear explosion in an urban area.

“In forest fires, only a small fraction of the fuel is consumed,” the scientists wrote. “The values…are 10 to 25 percent of the fuel load expected in boreal forests. In addition, the accessible fuel loading is substantially lower in forests than in urban areas. In total, the fuel burned in the urban areas in our 15-kiloton scenario is about 60 times greater than estimated for typical forest fires.”

The result of all the smoke is the opposite of what happens with the build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. A colorless gas, COallows solar radiation to pass through.

The solar radiation hits the earth and warms it. But when the earth tries to dump heat back into space in the form of infrared radiation, CO2 and other so-called “greenhouse gases” absorb some of the energy and redirect some back toward the earth.

The result is a warming planet.

Smoke in the atmosphere shifts the equation by blocking the sun’s rays from hitting the earth’s surface. That has a significant cooling effect.

“With a loss of solar radiation at the surface, the surface cools and evaporation, convection, and precipitation are reduced,” the study says. “…The global average surface temperature drops between 1.25° and 6.5°C over several years for our scenario. These perturbations reach their peak about three years after the conflict and are near the peak value for about four years. It takes more than a decade for temperatures and precipitation to return to normal. The Last Glacial Maximum, 20,000 years ago, had a global temperature decline of about 3° to 8°C relative to preindustrial temperatures, but these temperature decreases persisted for thousands of years.”

Calculating the odds

How likely is a nuclear war between Pakistan and India?

No one can say.

The new study notes Britain, France, China and Israel – along with the U.S. and Russia – now possess sizable stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but argues that “India and Pakistan are of special concern because of a long history of military clashes including serious recent ones, lack of progress in resolving territorial issues, densely populated urban areas, and ongoing rapid expansion of their respective nuclear arsenals. Here, we examine the possible repercussions of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan circa 2025 in which cities are one class of target, either by direct or collateral targeting.”

The two countries are estimated to have 140 to 150 warheads each at this time, but appear to be growing their stockpiles toward “200 to 250 warheads in each country by 2025,” the study says.

Israel, another country in a volatile part of the world, is believed to have but 80 nuclear weapons, while Frnce has 300; China, 270; Britian, 215; and North Korea,  up to 60. The other more than 12,000 on the planet are split between the U.S. and Russia.

“Although India does not need so many weapons to attack Pakistan, India is also concerned about China,” the study says. “China has about 360 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, so it is possible that India is sizing its nuclear forces in case of a nuclear conflict with China.”

China is an ally of Pakistan, which fears India’s larger and better-equipped military.

“India has conventional military superiority,” the study notes. “India is also geographically much larger than Pakistan. One possible route to nuclear war involves a conventional conflict between India and Pakistan. If Pakistan perceived that India were about to successfully invade them, that would put pressure on Pakistan to launch its nuclear weapons before they were overrun by the superior conventional Indian forces.

“Another possibility for starting a nuclear conflict is that India or Pakistan could lose control of its command and control structures due to an attack on them by the other side or possibly an attack by terrorists from within India or Pakistan or from another country. In such a scenario, it is not clear who might be in control of the nuclear forces and what steps they might take. A third possibility for starting a nuclear conflict is that India or Pakistan might mistake an attack by conventional forces, or even military exercises, for an attack by nuclear forces.”

The study presumes that once one country goes nuclear, for whatever reason, the other country is likely to respond in kind. Were that to happen, the study’s authors also warn that the situation could get much worse than their forecast.

“We assume that India will keep 100 nuclear weapons in its arsenal to deter China from entering the war,” they write. “Chinese involvement would greatly amplify the destruction discussed below. As China expands its presence in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is an element of China’s broader ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’ the odds of a Pakistani-Indian war spreading to China would appear to be increasing.”

Any nuclear war is expected to produce global consequences. A war limited to Pakistan and India would kill millions in those two countries, but the reign of death would go global.

“Because of the near-term regional effects of nuclear blast, thermal radiation, and prompt nuclear radiation, we find that perhaps for the first time in human history, the fatalities in a regional war could double the yearly natural global death rate,” the study says. “Moreover, the environmental stresses related to climate changes caused by smoke produced from burning cities could lead to widespread starvation and ecosystem disruption far outside of the war zone itself.”

Net primary production (NPP) north of 60 degrees latitude – about the latitude of Cordova, Alaska – would fall to zero over the first three years after the war, the study says, and “major crop-growing regions of North America and Eurasia experience declines of NPP averaging 25 to 50 percent over this time.

“Very large reductions in NPP occur in India, China, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia, as well as in tropical South America and Africa. Ocean reductions in NPP are highest in the Arctic, where production is almost entirely extinguished. In addition, in many regions where major fisheries exist, production is significantly reduced, including the North Atlantic and North Pacific, where NPP decreases by 25 to 50 percent.

“Together, the reductions in temperature, primary productivity, and precipitation suggest major disruptions to human and natural systems worldwide.”

Already heavily dependent on imports for fruits, vegetables and most agricultural staples – and facing a major reduction in fish, the state’s one major agricultural crop –  could expect to be extremely hard hit.












15 replies »

  1. The Day After Tomorrow could happen in several ways, natural or human; abrupt cooling that roughs-up farming and creates food-supply worries. But the real threat here is to The Economy. At best, stock markets and investment and banking are all casino operations, with booze & drugs on the house.

    The movie was Hollywood, a caricature of possible North Atlantic Thermohaline failure. Likewise a Pakistan-India desert-battlefield incident with a couple tactical nukes is orders of magnitude more likely than a 250 warhead nuclear slug fest on their cities. But yeah, 1 or 2 little nukes would blow the windows out of the economy, around the world.

    Food should always be National Security, Strategic Materiel. Even slight worries about food will be major trouble. But food has become just a business plaything … another token in the casino.

    It’s not really that we’re likely to see large-scale starvation. But lots of people live too close to the edge, and any little jostle means they lose control of their situation.

    That’s what Pakistan-India is: A reminder that as individuals & nations, we’ve gotten too comfortable being on the brink. We’ve gotten so good, we can do anything; here, hold my beer…

  2. If it were not for Russia’s role as the “big bad bear” in the U.S. media who would Lockheed Martin and Raytheon market for all their “weapons of mass destruction”?
    The reality is during the last World War Russia eventually aligned with the U.S. and I am sure that would happen again (like currently in Syria).
    Putin does not want to end the human race anymore than Trump does.
    Now as for Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and their crippling sanctions against Palestinians that is a whole different conversation…

    • Steve, I am curious who wants to live in peace? Would that be Israel or the Palestinians? I mean, I may be mistaken but I dont recall Isreal firing indiscriminate rockets into civilian populated areas or celebrating bombs strapped to their kids. Also, the Muslims in general have been tue aggresors and have their asses handed to their barbaric selves rime and time again by the Isrealis. So, when Israel wins land by winning a Muslim initiated war they are supposed to give it back because “it isnt fair”?
      Crippling sanctions? Ha The troglodyte’s from the death cult can go live in their squalor they created.

      • Bryan,
        I am sure you would feel differently if you were one of the 2.5 million trapped inside of gaza.
        Abbey Martin just released a powerful film entitled “Gaza Fights For Freedom”….
        It is very disturbing to watch Israeli snipers shooting unarmed women and children who are peacefully protesting near “the wire”.
        Why is the U.S. giving the Israelis “defense” money to continue this genocide?

      • Because Israel wants to live in peace while they are surrounded by barbarians who want to wipe them off the face of the earth. We support them to prevent genocide of the Jews AGAIN by butchers..

      • Bryan,
        You perception is a bit cloudy at best.
        Remember that one side has U.S. fighter jets they purchased and the other side has rocks and a few rare “RPG’s”.
        Whenever a conflict arises the casualties are usually around 90 % on the Palestinian side of the wall.
        “…the overwhelming majority of the deaths are Palestinian, and have been for the almost 14 years since B’Tselem began tracking.
        Overall, the group has recorded 8,166 conflict-related deaths, of which 7,065 are Palestinian and 1,101 Israeli.
        That means 87 percent of deaths have been Palestinian and only 13 percent Israeli.”

      • that also would mean that the Israeli “genocide,” as you call it, is failing badly. 7,065 deaths in 14 years is about 505 deaths per year. the Nazis, who actually engaged in genocide, didn’t even need camps or ovens to top that.

        one SS leader supervised the execution of 23,600 Jews over the course of two days in August 1941. that’s 11,800 PER DAY, more than twice as many as you are talking about per year. if we extend that into a yearly tally, we’re up to a capability to kill 4.3 million per year WITHOUT the death camps and ovens the Nazis built after they began an organized program of genocide. (

        do you even know what the word means? “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.”

        the Palestinian birth rate is about 30 per 1,000 people. there are now about 4 million people in Palestine. that translates into about 120,000 births per year. if the Israelis are engaged in a policy of “genocide” as you claim, they are incompetent. there is no other word for it. they aren’t even keeping up with the birth rate.

        do you think the IDF is incompetent? i don’t. the evidence would indicate it’s pretty damn competent because if it wasn’t Israel would have ceased to exist decades ago.

        so how other than “genocide” can one explain the numbers? the most obvious answer would be that the Israeli actions look like self-defense – restrained self-defense in fact – given that they obviously could kill more than 505 people per year without much effort.

        a couple well-placed bombs or rockets in urban centers could get you that number most every day if you were following a policy of genocide.

        i sadly never knew you were an anti-Semite. but that’s about the only conclusion one can reach when you call what is going on along the Israeli border genocide.

      • Craigmedred , in all due respect couldn’t a person make a mistake in understanding the Israel Palestine conflict without being anti Semitic ? Worshipping the high ground of Idealism at times is blinding to reality. Especially in this time of prolonged misinformation and acceptance of poor schooling. An era where reality is distorted by unbalanced non factual reporting. There is the possibility Steve s is blindly rooting for what he sees as the underdog. He may not be any form of of anti Semitic. He doesn’t realize Israel is surrounded on all sides . It’s in a true bind . The table is set against it so to say . Pushed into a corner with its back against the sea . A small country with few political or regional friends .seperatly It’s also easy to feel bad for the people in the Gaza Strip West Bank area as well due to their primitive situation and being used by all the local Arabs around them to push Israel into violence . Not a good situation. The nations who helped put Israel and its surrounding people in such a bind should work together to create an equatable humane fair solution. IMO . My long gone grandmother visited the place . She said it was beautiful. Do not be divided by misinformation. Come together under the banner of truth and tolerance of diversity.

      • Opinion,

        With all due respect, Steve Stine has made his position clear. He is simply reciting the talking points of antisemitic Jew haters. He previously has supported the antisemitic BDS movement on this page and on others like Must Read Alaska. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. The Anti-Defamation League lists BDS as antisemitic

        Unfortunately the extremists on the left, specifically the antisemitic left, habe taken to using the word genocide in their language to describe activities that are clearly not related to genocide. The reason they do this is to desensitize people to the horrors that actual genocide entail. It’s sad but we have a few antisemites in Congress with Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and their “squad” that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and another.

        These people do not respect facts, history, or science.

      • Steve o , let’s hope you are not right . Let’s hope it’s a misunderstanding. I’d rather not think of a fellow American in such a harsh manner. Though I do respect your adherence to proovable facts and accurate science as you are obviously following the evidence in the thread .

      • Opinion,

        After posting numerous comments on this site on other articles, at this point I would say that Steve Stine is standing by his antisemitic statements. He has had plenty of time to claim he wasn’t saying anything antisemitic (even though he clearly did) and defend what he said. It’s sad that so many on the left hold such racist views.

    • I gotta say Steve, you surprised me with your take. I figured you would comment about Fukushima and your belief that it has tainted wild Alaskan salmon. Instead you pulled out your less played antisemite card.

      Yep on a story about an Indian-Pakistan caused global nuclear winter, you went with antisemitic nonsense.

  3. I remember growing up during the Cold War with the threat of nuclear war daily. We watched as Marxists/Leftists/Socialists/Communists killed over 100 MILLION of their own in the 20th Century alone. Now, I watch how all the above is embraced by Democrats in general, to include their Presidential Candidates, to the younger generation. As for that money grabbing, regulation killing, all controlling “Global Warming”, well, we are all going to die from it in 11yrs. What diff does it make?

  4. Been there. Done that. A 1983 study of smoke produced by a theoretical nuclear war was published by 5 scientists – Turco, Toon, Ackerman, Pollack, Sagan (TTAPS). It made the case that a nuclear exchange of a certain size would loft sufficient smoke in the atmosphere that would lead to global cooling. It was used by the anti-war movement at the time to argue against Reagan’s military buildup. You can find the paper at the following link:

    Interestingly, the theory was tested in 1991 as Saddam’s army torched over 700 Kuwaiti oil wells and an unspecified number of oil lakes, trenches and other holding areas on their way out of Kuwait after the First Gulf War. This lofted a God-awful amount of soot (the active cause of cooling in the TTAPS paper) into the air over the Gulf and to the west (prevailing winds). They were torched in January. First was extinguished in April with the last out by Nov. They were thought to last for years.

    There was no noticeable global cooling (or anywhere else that I can find) due to the soot from the fires, which in turn buried this particular prediction.

    What happened? The TTAPS prediction was an early attempt at climate modeling. And the models simply don’t work to predict the reaction of a chaotic system. And none of the models, absolutely none of them, consider solar energy into the climate system. An alternate explanation is that these fires didn’t loft the stuff high enough into the atmosphere to reach the stratosphere where it could stay a while. True, but soot is relatively large and doesn’t stay at high altitudes in very thin air like an aerosol like SO2 will. We know SO2 in aerosol form is a net coolant from observation of massive volcanic eruptions.

    Nice try by the authors. But already disproven. Cheers –

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