Climate science and nuclear weapons research: Another conflation of weather and climate

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

The Nagasaki bomb. 9 August 1945 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists via SAGE Publications  comes this press release claiming that because nuclear fallout was tracked by meteorological instrumentation and synoptic scale models, it somehow relates to climate science. I think it’s a stretch. About the only connection I see is that many of the same people who worry greatly about nuclear annihilation also worry greatly about annihilation by Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Nuclear weapons’ surprising contribution to climate science

Los Angeles (July 13 2012). Nuclear weapons testing may at first glance appear to have little connection with climate change research. But key Cold War research laboratories and the science used to track radioactivity and model nuclear bomb blasts have today been repurposed by climate scientists. The full story appears in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published by SAGE.

In his article for the July-August issue of the Bulletin, “Entangled histories: Climate science and nuclear weapons research,” University of Michigan historian Paul Edwards notes that climate science and nuclear weapons testing have a long and surprisingly intimate relationship. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, for example, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization tracked the radioactive plume emanating from damaged Japanese nuclear reactors via a global network of monitoring stations designed to measure airborne radionuclides. That network is a direct descendant of systems and computer models created to trace the fallout from weapons tests, Edwards explains.

But ways of tracking radiation as it moves through the atmosphere have applications that extend far beyond the nuclear industry. Tracing radioactive carbon as it cycles through the atmosphere, the oceans, and the biosphere has been crucial to understanding anthropogenic climate change.

Mathematical models with nuclear science roots have also found a place in the environmental scientists’ toolboxes. The earliest global climate models relied on numerical methods, very similar to those developed by nuclear weapons designers, for solving the fluid dynamics equations needed to analyze shock waves produced in nuclear explosions.

The impacts of nuclear war on the climate represent another major historical intersection between climate science and nuclear affairs. Without the work done by nuclear weapons designers and testers, scientists would know much less than they do now about the atmosphere. In particular, this research has contributed enormously to knowledge about both carbon dioxide, which raises Earth’s temperature, and aerosols, which lower it. Without climate models, scientists and political leaders would not have understood the full extent of nuclear weapons’ power to annihilate not only human beings, but other species as well.

Facilities built during the Cold War, including US national laboratories constructed to create weapons, now use their powerful supercomputers, expertise in modeling, and skills in managing large data sets to address the threat of catastrophic climate change. This has benefitted the labs themselves — without a new direction, the argument to continue funding these laboratories would have been less compelling — and the science and scientists who are studying climate change.

“Today, the laboratories built to create the most fearsome arsenal in history are doing what they can to prevent another catastrophe – this one caused not by behemoth governments at war, but by billions of ordinary people living ordinary lives within an energy economy that we must now reinvent,” Edwards says.

###

“Entangled histories: Climate science and nuclear weapons research” by Paul N. Edwards published July 13 2012 in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The article will be free to access for a limited time here: http://bos.sagepub.com/

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC. http://www.sagepublications.com

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences. The Bulletin was established in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project.

About these ads

37 thoughts on “Climate science and nuclear weapons research: Another conflation of weather and climate

  1. This has benefitted the labs themselves — without a new direction, the argument to continue funding these laboratories would have been less compelling —
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    BINGO!

  2. Without climate models, scientists and political leaders would not have understood the full extent of nuclear weapons’ power to annihilate not only human beings, but other species as well.

    Say, what? Notwithstanding Carl Sagan’s bogus “nuclear winter” maunderings, I’m pretty sure scientists and political leaders had a pretty good idea of the effects of nuclear weapons *before* climate models were around.

  3. “In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, for example, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization tracked the radioactive plume emanating from damaged Japanese nuclear reactors via a global network of monitoring stations designed to measure airborne radionuclides. That network is a direct descendant of systems and computer models created to trace the fallout from weapons tests, Edwards explains.”

    Sounds reasonable.

    “Tracing radioactive carbon as it cycles through the atmosphere, the oceans, and the biosphere has been crucial to understanding anthropogenic climate change.”

    Only they don’t seem to do that. Looking at the decay of C14 after the atmospheric tests of ’60s shows it falling off with a half life of something like 5 years. Yet IPCC tells us CO2 will remain for hundreds if not thousands of years.

  4. Later on the nuclear winter scare was foisted on us, courtesy of Richard P. Turco and many others. It was a sloppy piece of modeling work that set the stage for the later and much bigger global warming fiasco. The lesson of nuclear winter is that a small group of zealots could readliy foist off garbage science, because we all would readily accept more prospective terror from nuclear war. Who could deny that nucelar war would be terrible, and who would protest someone making it appear yet more terrible.

    Science zealotry thus gained a foothold that was later greatly expanded to promote the global warming scam.

  5. The President, Harry Duckworth and Vice-President Benjamin Hogg of my former university both worked on the issue of nuclear atmospheric explosions. Driven by stories about high levels of Strontium 90 in milk and other alarmism, the Canadian government was part of the research into the impact including distribution. Some claimed the nuclear explosions were responsible for the climate trends of the time, in that case cooling.

    I spent many hours discussing the issue with Dr Hogg after I learned that he didn’t know anything about the structure of the atmosphere. For example he didn’t know the troposphere was twice as deep, that is, the Tropopause was twice as high over the Equator as it is over the Poles and that the height varies seasonally. The variance is greater over the Poles because of the greater seasonal temperature range. I know from discussion with many others involved the Dr Hogg was not alone in his misunderstanding.

    His misunderstanding is not uncommon mostly because the structure and dynamics of the Troposphere was not understood at that time and is still not resolved as I explain in an article titled “Static Climate Models In A Virtually Unknown Dynamic Atmosphere” that will be posted on my web site later today.

    http://drtimball.com/

  6. …. threats to the survival of humans from nuclear weapons, climate change and emerging technologies…….. .
    What about the threat from politicians who swallow the AGW rubbish, and from blinkered MSM?

    Anyway, I have always said that the awful weather we are having stems from modern weapons. If we all went back to using natural flint axes and arrowheads the weather would settle down again to what it was like 8.000 years ago.

    Oh, wait ….. .

    What was I saying about politicians ……. ?

  7. Tim Ball;
    Driven by stories about high levels of Strontium 90 in milk and other alarmism, the Canadian government was part of the research into the impact including distribution.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>

    You didn’t say it in your comment, but my recollection was that the “models” said there would be, but there wasn’t when they tested the milk?

  8. For someone that detests nuclear research and nuclear power, the greenies sure seem content to eat the fruit from the poison tree when it suits them.
    What’s next? Vivisection methods bring new light into the mind of the Deniers?
    New insight into cloud formation gained from Water Boarding techniques.

  9. The delicious irony here is that this radioactivity-tracking capability
    measured the quick removal of carbon-14 from the atmosphere,
    which showed the fallacy of long CO2 residence time.

    The very science they spotlight here actually undermines AGW dogma.

  10. I think their last statement says it all:

    “…The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from…emerging technologies…”

    At one time, the internal combustion engine and the electric lightbulb were considered emerging technologies.

    Today, there are still large areas of the developing world that doesn’t have electricity.

    And they want to save humanity from all that…

  11. I’ve just dug out the atmospheric C14 data from 3 different studies , the atmospheric half-life (nothing to do with radioactive decay half life which is about 5700 yr so can be ignored on this scale) came out as 13.3 ; 15.5 and 14.7 , somewhat more than I recalled.

    Clearly that is a long way from the durations used in the IPCC referenced models.

  12. Well the connection between the modern state of the art in climate science, and nuclear bomb blasts is rather obvious; I’m surprised it even has to be mentioned.

    Take Kevin Trenberth’s famous global energy budget cartoon; you know the one in which he claims a TSI value of 341 W/m^2. NOTE that Watts per metre squared IS NOT a measure of ENERGY, so already Trenberth is off the rails. ENERGY is measured in Joules; or in ancient times in Ergs.

    So who cares; what does it matter that Trenberth measures energy in W/m^2.

    Here’s where the bombs come in. If you drop one; say perhaps a 20 kiloton one; maybe once every 25 years or so; not too often. On average I don’t think the damage would be all that great. Look at Hiroshima, you’d hardly know anything ever happened there; on average.

    That’s the trouble with averages; on average, nothing much ever happens. Thats why the rate of delivery of energy matters; and can’t be averaged. Power matters, and power per unit area also matters. Lasers come in handy for lots of things, because they can be focused to extremely high density of power. But averaged over the whole earth and year; even lasers (or nuclear bombs), really don’t do much of anything.

  13. There were spinoffs to the understanding weather from the nuclear research but they were not models but observational.

    There was a program called rawin, that used daily observations of high altitude winds to predict fall out plume movement from rawinsonde data. From that data 2 times a day they produced predictions of where fallout plumes would move based on the rate of fall of a theoretical fall out particle as it descended from high altitude and passed through the various wind layers.

    These rawin forecasts worked quite well to to predict movement of the ash plume from Mt. St Helens last explosive erruption.

    I am not sure if that program still exists since it depended on the manual release of weather balloons several times a day to figure out the upper air flow patterns.

    Larry

  14. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists = BOGUS, non-scientific advocacy rag, anti-nuclear power, anti-weapons….orginally associated with UCS, might be “independent” now.

  15. @ Bill Tuttle says:
    July 13, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Without climate models, scientists and political leaders would not have understood the full extent of nuclear weapons’ power to annihilate not only human beings, but other species as well.

    Say, what? Notwithstanding Carl Sagan’s bogus “nuclear winter” maunderings, I’m pretty sure scientists and political leaders had a pretty good idea of the effects of nuclear weapons *before* climate models were around.
    *******************************************************************************
    Correct. It’s a required course at the War College. Comes with a really thick manual filled with deployment and effects tables that include target weather data. All computerized/networked these days.

  16. @Noblesse Oblige says:
    July 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Later on the nuclear winter scare was foisted on us, courtesy of Richard P. Turco and many others. It was a sloppy piece of modeling work that set the stage for the later and much bigger global warming fiasco. The lesson of nuclear winter is that a small group of zealots could readliy foist off garbage science, because we all would readily accept more prospective terror from nuclear war. Who could deny that nucelar war would be terrible, and who would protest someone making it appear yet more terrible.

    *******************************************************************************
    2053 nuclear explosions took place between 1945 and 1998. We’re still here and multiplying like rabbits. Trading shots in a war would be somewhat more spread out and in a shorter time is all.

    An interesting video of these shots.

  17. Thanks for those figures on atmospheric half life of C14, P. Solar.:
    13.3,15.5 and 14.7 years sound quite realistic figures and a far cry from the wild IPCC figures.

  18. The UK Met Office re-purposed a cold war fall-out computer model for volcanic ash plume warnings.

    Look where that got us when Eyjafjallajökull erupted …

  19. “2053 nuclear explosions took place between 1945 and 1998. We’re still here and multiplying like rabbits. Trading shots in a war would be somewhat more spread out and in a shorter time is all.”

    God help us, it was good to have that sword of Damocles hanging there making insignificant problems look insignificant.

  20. The funny thing is that the atmospheric residency time 14C, and so all atmospheric CO2, can be determined directly by examining the decay of the pulse produced by atmospheric H-bomb explosions; about 12 years.
    The fact that the modern steady state level of 14C is essentially the same as the pre-Nuclear age shows that the true cycling of CO2 in the atmosphere/aquasphere can’t be much greater than 30 years.

  21. Those basic fluid dynamic equations (e.g.Navier-Stokes) existed nearly 100 years before the first atomic bomb. Those equations were used by the Germans (air flight) before WWII and compared to experimental data from wind tunnels. The equations were simplified using order of magnitude analyses and dynamic similitude to ultimately solve closed form solutions with the aid of the slide rule. These methods led to many modern scientific and engineering developments, without the influence of atomic discoveries.

    As clearly seen, the use of our now super fast computers do not mean better solutions and accuracy. It is still the judgement and experience of the analyst and his development of a representative math model of the real world that may lead to a proper solution. Confidence can only be gained by comparing predicted results with actual observable experimental data.

    GW climatologists have not yet accomplished this.

  22. Just for the record here’s the plot of atmospheric C14 reduction after the period of airborne test had ended.

    data file attribution:

    ***********************************************************
    * Carbon-14 Measurements in Atmospheric CO2 from Northern *
    * and Southern Hemisphere Sites, 1962-1993 *
    * *
    * Authors: Reidar Nydal and Knut Lovseth *
    * Radiological Dating Laboratory *
    * The Norwegian Institute of Technology *
    * N-7034 Trondheim NTH *
    * NORWAY *
    * *
    * NDP057 (November 1996) *
    ***********************************************************

  23. gary murphy says: Confidence can only be gained by comparing predicted results with actual observable experimental data.

    Oh no. Science has come a long way that was the case. You’re out of date.

    confidence is now gained by comparing the observable experimental data to super evolved climate models in order to detect biases and errors in data. The data can then be adjusted to correct for the bias.

  24. In the late 40s ,early 50s whenever it was too hot, too cold,too anything my father would always say,” those damn A-bomb tests”

  25. Curiousgeorge says:
    July 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    =============

    Thanks for the link to the video.

  26. Scott Covert. says:
    July 13, 2012 at 11:10 am

    What’s next? Vivisection methods bring new light into the mind[s] of the Deniers?

    No, that would require laser-powered trepanation.

  27. Re:
    Interstellar Bill says: July 13, 2012 at 11:18 am
    and
    DocMartyn says: July 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm
    and
    P. Solar says: July 14, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Chapter 9 (Nuclear Weapons) of “Environmental Radioactivity” by Eisenbud & Gesell (Academic Press) provides much information independent of the climate-science-related literature. Regarding the fallacy of a CO2 residence time on the order of a century:

    “Carbon-14

    “It has been seen in Chapter 6 that cosmic-ray reactions in the upper atmosphere result in the transmutation of atmospheric nitrogen to 14C and that this nuclide has been in secular equilibrium in the biosphere in a concentration of 7.5+/-2.7 pCi (280+/- 100 mBq) of 14C per gram of total carbon. This equilibrium is believed to have been unchanged for at least 15,000 years prior to 1954 when the advent of large thermonuclear explosions produced additional 14C that perturbed the natural equilibrium. Carbon-14 in the atmosphere is believed to exist as 14CO2. However, introduction into the atmosphere of CO2 from combustion of fossil fuels tends to dilute the 14C in the atmosphere.

    “Because the half-life of 14C is 5730 years, the collective dose when it is introduced into the environment will be delivered for many generations. . .

    “Carbon-14 distributes itself quickly among the major environmental compartments – the stratosphere, troposphere, biosphere, and surface ocean waters. Transfer among these compartments takes place with time constants on the order of a few years, but transfer to the deep ocean water proceeds more slowly. Following an injection of 14C into the stratosphere, the biosphere will reach equilibrium after a relatively few years, and the 14C will decrease slowly thereafter at a rate determined by transfer to deep ocean water and possibly humus (NCRP, 1985b).

    “By the end of 1967, the concentration of 14C in the troposphere had increased to about 60% above natural levels in the Northern Hemisphere and a little less in the Southern Hemisphere. (Nydal 1968). Because the short time constants involved in transfer from the atmosphere to biosphere, the 14C content of human tissues and foods increased rapidly following the heavy testing schedules of 1961 and 1962. The dose equivalent from 14C in fallout is estimated to have reached a peak of 0.96 mrem y^-1 (9.6 uSv y^-1) in 1965 and had diminished to 0.37 mrem y^-1 (3.7 uSv y^-1) by 1984 (NCRP 1985b). Because of its long half-life, bomb-produced 14C will persist in the environment for many thousands of years.” (end quote)

    For an independent estimate of residence time, the key numbers are 0.96 mrem/year in 1965 and 0.37 mrem/year in 1984. Conservatively neglecting radioactive decay, and given dose rates 19 years apart, the time for dose rate to decrease from 0.96 mrem/year to 0.48 mrem/year is slightly less than 14 years. This can be shown graphically as a straight line on semi-log paper or calculated by
    D(1985) / D(1965) = e^(-kt)
    where k is the decay constant and t is time (19 years)

    Residence time is equal to half-time divided by ln(0.5), or alternatively, 1 divided by decay constant. Residence time is equal to slightly less than 20 years.

  28. @Neil
    Thanks, that is the right calc. Confirms my back of the phone bill 14.5 years.

  29. IMHO, I think we should say:
    the same people who spent 40 years working to design the weapons for nuclear annihilation, after the end of the Cold War found themselve JOBLESS, so they were forced to start worry about annihilation by something else.
    After excluding an alien invasion, someone invented the “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming”, and a giant flux of “research fundings” started again…

    [sorry if my English is not so fluent...]

Comments are closed.