Nuclear Niño response observed in simulations of nuclear war scenarios

The climate impacts of smoke from fires ignited by nuclear war would include global cooling and crop failure. Facing increased reliance on ocean-based food sources, it is critical to understand the physical and biological state of the post-war oceans. Here we use an Earth system model to simulate six nuclear war scenarios. We show that global cooling can generate a large, sustained response in the equatorial Pacific, resembling an El Niño but persisting for up to seven years. The El Niño following nuclear war, or Nuclear Niño, would be characterized by westerly trade wind anomalies and a shutdown of equatorial Pacific upwelling, caused primarily by cooling of the Maritime Continent and tropical Africa. Reduced incident sunlight and ocean circulation changes would cause a 40% reduction in equatorial Pacific phytoplankton productivity. These results indicate nuclear war could trigger extreme climate change and compromise food security beyond the impacts of crop failure.
© The Author(s) 2021. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Communications Earth & Environment, 2021, available online at: . Keywords: atmospheric dynamics; climates sciences; marine biology.
Coupe, J., Stevenson, S., Lovenduski, N.S. et al. Nuclear Niño response observed in simulations of nuclear war scenarios. Commun Earth Environ 2, 18 (2021).