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Using Wildfires To Study Climate Impacts Of Nuclear War

Luke Flynt

Wildfires are a common part of life in our region. According to new research, they can also give scientists valuable information about the climate effects of another potential disaster: nuclear war.

In 2017, several large fires across Canada and the Pacific Northwest gave scientists an opportunity to study the chemical makeup of smoke and how it could change the climate.

They took those findings and compared them to simulated climate models of nuclear war, an event that could create 10-100 times the amount of smoke.

"This reinforces that there would be global climate change after a nuclear war, even if the war was on the other side of the world," says Alan Robock, distinguished professor of environmental science at Rutgers University who worked on the study.

Robock says smoke from the 2017 fires stayed in the air for more than eight months. The smoke absorbs the sunlight, which warms up the air and destroys ozone.

"If there was a war between the U.S. and Russia, it would produce so much smoke that it would block out the sun and temperatures would get below freezing, even in the summertime," he says.

Next, researchers are looking at how chemicals in a city could make the smoke from a nuclear attack worse for the climate.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2019 KUNR. For more, visit kunr.org.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.