An India-Pakistan Nuclear War Could Kill Millions, Threaten Global Starvation

A dense column of smoke rose more than 60,000 feet over Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945 (U.S. time), after the second atomic bomb ever used during war was dropped on the industrial port by a U.S. B-29 Superfortress. Photo: National Archives

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50-125 million people–more than the death toll during all six years of World War II, according to new research.

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and Rutgers University examines how such a hypothetical future conflict would have consequences that could ripple across the globe. Today, India and Pakistan each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, and that number is expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.

“Such a war would threaten not only the locations where bombs might be targeted but the entire world,” said Alan Robock, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Robock, who co-authored the study in the journal Science Advances, and other scientists, looked at a war scenario that could occur between India and Pakistan in 2025.

The research found that fires ignited by exploding nuclear weapons could release 16 million to 36 million tons of soot (black carbon) in smoke that would rise into the upper atmosphere, spreading around the world within weeks.

The soot would absorb solar radiation, heating the air and boosting the smoke’s swift rise. Sunlight reaching the Earth would decline by 20 to 35 percent, cooling the surface by 3.6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 5 degrees Celsius) and reducing precipitation by 15 to 30 percent, with larger regional impacts.

Vegetation growth would decline by 15 to 30 percent on land and ocean productivity would decline by 5 to 15 percent. Recovery from all these impacts would take more than 10 years because the smoke would linger in the upper atmosphere.

“Nine countries have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India are the only ones rapidly increasing their arsenals,” Robock said. “Because of the continuing unrest between these two nuclear-armed countries, particularly over Kashmir, it is important to understand the consequences of a nuclear war.”

Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe.  Science Advances  02 Oct 2019: Vol. 5, no. 10, eaay5478 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5478

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