In the 1980s, a group of scientists that included the famous Carl Sagan, published a study that looked at what effect the nitrogen oxide gases, clouds of dust, forest fires, and burning petroleum and plastics after a nuclear war would have on the environment. The TTAPS study, as it was called, pointed out that the clouds from these sources could block out all but a fraction of the sun for several weeks. As a result, it estimated that surface temperatures would plummet by as much as 15 to 25 degrees Celsius (18 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit), though the scientists softened their estimates to a maximum drop of 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) several years later. This led one author of the study, Dr. Richard P. Turco, to coin the term "nuclear winter." This sudden chill combined with the radiation from nuclear fallout would surely kill most of the world's plants, and, despite the clouds blocking the warmth of the sun, harmful UV rays would still have free rein thanks to an ozone layer decimated by the blasts. While Carl Sagan and other authors of the study believed that this would be a death sentence for the human species, Dr. Turco was a little more optimistic. "My personal opinion is that the human race wouldn't become extinct, but civilization as we know it certainly would," he told The New York Times. The Cold War is now over, but the possibility of nuclear war is always over the horizon. Learn more about the horrors of nuclear war in the videos below.
With the horrors that nuclear bombs have already wrought on our planet, it's hard to imagine that the worst thing to come from an all-out nuclear war wouldn't be the blasts themselves, but the effects in the weeks, months, and years afterward. But it's true: the blasts have the potential to kill millions instantly, but the after effects would slowly snuff out billions more. The most devastating consequence of a man-made apocalypse? Nuclear winter.
Could Humans Survive A Nuclear Winter?
Discover what would happen if the worst took place.
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How Carl Sagan Predicted Nuclear Winter
He was uniquely qualified to study the topic.
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The Cold War Arms Race
Discover why the threat of nuclear war loomed so large when the TTAPS study took place.