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Human Emissions of Particles to the Stratosphere from Geoengineering or Nuclear Winter: A Bad and a Very Bad Idea

Categories: Rutgers Distinguished Faculty Talk Series
Speaker: Alan Robock, Rutgers Dept. of Environmental Sciences
Date & Time: October 6, 2008 - 4:00pm
Location: Fiber Optics Auditorium

Human Emissions of Particles to the Stratosphere from Geoengineering or Nuclear Winter: A Bad and a Very Bad Idea

Alan Robock, Rutgers Dept. of Environmental Sciences
4:00 PM, Fiber Optics Auditorium

There are two ways that humans can put particles into the stratosphere, either inadvertently from a nuclear war, or advertently to emulate a volcano to try to counteract global warming, called geoengineering. A nuclear war would burn cities and industrial areas, putting large quantities of smoke into the stratosphere. Suggestions for geoengineering involve injection of sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) into the stratosphere from planes, balloons, or artillery, which would produce sulfuric acid droplets. We have conducted climate model simulations of these anthropogenic stratospheric aerosol injections and find that both would have severe negative consequences for the Earth.

If there were a way to continuously inject SO2 into the lower stratosphere, it would produce global cooling, but it would disrupt the Asian and African summer monsoons, reducing precipitation to the food supply for billions of people. These regional climate anomalies are but one of many reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. I will also delineate 19 other reasons, including ozone depletion and no more blue skies. Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to climate change are a much better way to channel our resources to address anthropogenic global warming.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, with each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs as airbursts on urban areas, could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history and global-scale ozone depletion. Furthermore, although the total number of nuclear weapons in the world is about 1/3 of the peak number in the 1980s, a large-scale conflict between the U.S. and Russia could still produce nuclear winter, plummeting the Earth into temperatures colder than the Ice Age and threatening most of the planet with starvation. The effects of regional and global nuclear war would last for more than a decade, much longer than previously thought. For more details on this new research visit

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