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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 12:57 EDT

Regional Nuclear War Would Have Global Impact

April 8, 2008

A new analysis by researchers at University of Colorado has found that a regional nuclear war would wreak havoc across the globe for at least a decade.

In addition to devastating the countries directly involved, massive fires resulting from even a limited conflict would produce enough soot in the atmosphere to create an ozone hole over heavily populated areas.

The ozone hole over the Antarctic has worried scientists for years, allowing damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the Earth’s surface. The hole has prompted some chemicals to become banned from use in efforts to eliminate it.

However, unlike the Antarctic, a nuclear-induced ozone hole would affect much of the world, damaging plants and animals and increasing skin cancer, eye damage and other effects in millions of people, the researchers warned.

Michael J. Mills of the University of Colorado led the research.  He and his team used complex  computer modeling to predict what would happen in the atmosphere should a nuclear war between India and Pakistan occur in which each detonated 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear explosives. The researchers calculated that the blasts would send as much as five million metric tons of soot up to 50 miles into the atmosphere.

The soot and the heat from solar radiation would combine to cause a series of chemical reactions, breaking down the stratospheric ozone layer that protects the planet from dangerous ultraviolet radiation, the researchers said.

“We would see a dramatic drop in ozone levels that would persist for many years,” Mills warned in a statement, according to an Associated Press report.

“At mid-latitudes the ozone decrease would be up to 40 percent, which could have huge effects on human health and on terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems.”

The mid-latitudes are the areas between the tropics and the arctic, and are where the largest numbers of people reside.

The team determined that a decrease of 40 percent of the ozone would result in a 213 percent increase in DNA damage associated with skin cancer, and a 132 percent increase in light damage to plants.

On the Net:

The research was published in Monday’s online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A summary of the report can be viewed at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/105/14/5307.

University of Colorado