Nuclear winter is a theory that the impact of nuclear weapons would throw huge volumes of soot into the atmosphere. The extra particles would effectively blot out the sun and create catastrophic cooling all over the globe. Scientists have tried to model the effects of a nuclear winter by looking at modern wildfires and volcanic eruptions and then scaling them to various nuclear scenarios.
We’ve all seen those nuclear bunker apocalypse movies, but is it really possible to survive an all-out nuclear war? Scientists have been trying to answer that question for decades, and the topic gets a bit of renewed attention everytime global tensions rise. There are a number of competing theories about the effects of a nuclear winter, and depending on the specifics, it just might be possible to ride out a nuclear apocalypse with the right preparation.
Even as a child of the cold war, nuclear war never seemed that scary. The movies taught me that anyone could survive a direct hit in an underground bunker with 30 years worth of food. We lived in a rural area, far from potential targets and I obviously didn’t have a realistic vision of what the aftermath would entail. I assumed “nuclear winter” meant one year without a summer growing season, which seemed easy enough survive with a little planning. That special naivety of a child carried through for a long time, until a recent conversation with my father
I made some joke about surviving a nuclear apocalypse, and he looked at me dumbfounded and asked, “Why on earth would you want to survive that? If a nuke is coming, I want it to land square on top of me and end it.” I laughed, assuming I’d inherited my survival instinct from my mother, but then I started wondering if there might be more to it. What exactly would a nuclear aftermath look like? How long would a nuclear winter really last?
In reality, it’s hard to imagine and just as hard to model scientifically. Smithsonian Magazine summed it up pretty well, “Both nuclear winter and global climate change are fairly abstract phenomena that occur on a scale beyond our immediate sensory experience. We’re asking people to accept a result and imagine a change that is just beyond the realm of any of us, what we’ve experienced in our lives.”