Oxygen After a Global Thermonuclear War

Discussion in 'General Discussion Forum' started by Atomkilla, Jan 22, 2014.

  1. Atomkilla

    Atomkilla Hazel Hegemon oTO Orderite

    Dec 26, 2010
    Yes, you read the thread title right.

    The idea is this - a global nuclear war, on a huge scale, even greater than the Great War, would result in immense devastation of plants and "green life" in general.
    Ensuing firestorms, forest fires and inferno would result in a huge amount of oxygen burning out, as it is necessary for ignition and sustention of fire.
    Radiation particles, dust, smoke etc. block out the sun, therefore limiting sun's light from reaching the surface of Earth in enough amounts for a continuous and stable photosynthesis in remaining organism which rely on chlorophyll for food production.
    That, combined with radiation destroys much, if not all, of Earth's plant life, therefore eliminating the main source of O2 on Earth (the "pre-War O2" burned out during the conflict).

    Without food, plants die. Without plants, not enough oxygen (not to mention food for herbivores and omnivores). Without oxygen, the biggest portion of life on Earth dies.
    Cyanobacteria are not enough to sustain life on a grand scale.

    Is such a scenario possible?

    65 million years ago you had a huge firestorm that swept Earth almost clean of life, and resulted in (presumably) a long nuclear-sort of winter. However, there was no radioactive particles then, not like in the event of nuclear war. No black rain to kill almost anything it touches.
    The result was that majority of smaller animals survived, those which didn't require much food and were adaptable enough.

    So, does that mean that, realistically speaking, a worldwide nuclear war would result in the extinction of humankind on surface?
    As for those living in underground, would they die out due to this form of "asphyxiation" which would result as there is, basically, no strong, continuous source of oxygen on planet?
    Oxygen is a heavy element and tends to "fall down", so those living in underground shelters, metros and so on would probably have a source for a certain period of time, but how long?

    All this is highly hypothetical, borderline unrealistic, but I'd like to discuss it.
    Obviously, the topic goes beyond the realm of Fallout and into the heart of post-nuclear visions of future themselves (I feel so cool after writing this sentence), and therefore I posted it in GD rather than elsewhere.

    Please discuss.
    I have more thoughts I'll add later on.
  2. SuAside

    SuAside Testament to the ghoul lifespan

    May 27, 2004
    No. The concepts of nuclear winter and firestorms are outdated and disproven. Even if we launch everything we've got, we wouldn't come close to wiping out a significant portion of plant life.

    Not to mention that after a nuclear strike (or accident), plant life eventually thrives due to the absense of human intervention in that area. Radiation, especially Gamma radiation, obviously hurts plants, but the Gamma radiation released in nuclear strikes is not terribly huge & quite localized.

    You need about 500 rads per day (or 5 SV/day when using Gamma ray calculations) in a certain location to totally wipe out plant life in a given location (though certain plant species will already die at 5 rads per day). Such intense radiation is a death sentence to humans and is overall rare to be sustained for a long period of time in any given location.

    You will find this amount of radiation near melt-down reactor cores and at ground zero of nuclear strikes for a while, but not stretching out far beyond the site of the dissaster.

    After a nuclear strike, radiation levels go back to more or less acceptable ranges for humans after 2 weeks to 1 month. Still not very healthy, but sufficient to function without undue risk of death. For plants, it's far shorter.
  3. .Pixote.

    .Pixote. Carbon Dated and Proud

    Sep 14, 2009
    "As of the mid 1990s, the combined nuclear firepower of the nations of the Earth added up to an estimated 20 gigatons (2 x 1010), roughly one five-thousandth of the energy needed to make the crater that the K-T impactor made."

    And that sucker couldn't wipe out all of the animal life on the planet - tell that to the dinosaurs. :look:

    "The energy yield of the impactor at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary 65 million years ago was equivalent to approximately 100 terratons (terra = trillion, or 1012) of TNT; we know this based on the size of the (200 km diameter) hole it blew in the Earth's crust in southern Mexico."
  4. naossano

    naossano So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Oct 19, 2006
    Since when, the origin of dinosaurs extinction was confirmed ?

    That scenario reminds me of Philip K Dick Second Variety. Basically, you don't survive long outside your bunker...
  5. Atomkilla

    Atomkilla Hazel Hegemon oTO Orderite

    Dec 26, 2010
    Is nuclear winter disproven?
    I thought it was highly criticized, but never actually disproven.

    As for firestorm, I'm pretty sure it's possible. It happens with many large forest fires.

    I personally don't think this is possible either, the concept I've given up there, but I'm basically presenting a highly hypothetical, fictionalized version of events.
    Imagine the level of firepower in say, 50 years from now, most of it going up at roughly the same time.

    Maybe not enough to wipe out all life, but all of human life?
    Making the environment so hostile it cannot sustain us?

    True, but then again, all of it was focused in a rather small spot of Earth's surface.
    A nuclear event is "equally" dispersed.

    '95, I believe.
    Yes, it's not 100% confirmed, but based on Iridium levels in C-T boundary, an element abundant in asteroids and rare on Earth, it's almost definitive that the impact was the trigger for dino extinction.
    That plus a huge crater dating to the period.

    Again, I personally don't believe the event I've imagined is possible. Far from that.
    But for the sake of the argument, I'd like to see how far can the concept be pushed.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  6. SuAside

    SuAside Testament to the ghoul lifespan

    May 27, 2004
    For every study that says nuclear winter is a thing, there's a handful disproving every point. Sure, we can't "prove" anything until we've actually done it, but it's looking like it'd be a "nuclear autumn" at worse. And the effects would not be long lasting (climate-wise)

    Firestorms are possible where there is dry vegitation, obviously. But it's not like the entire Amazon will spontaneously combust.
  7. King_Rocket

    King_Rocket First time out of the vault

    Apr 21, 2013
    We get between 50-80% of our oxygen from ocean phytoplankton so I think we would be ok, since it seems that once you get out from the coast the oceans seems unchanged in the FO world.
  8. Atomkilla

    Atomkilla Hazel Hegemon oTO Orderite

    Dec 26, 2010

    Really? Didn't know that.
    Got a source or something?
  9. Muff

    Muff Water Chip? Been There, Done That

    May 5, 2006
    It wouldn't happen, as Su said we could not replicate the KT event with all our nuclear stockpile as a species in one big drunken party.
    And while small localised fires might happen from back fall of debris it would not cause enough to kill off all or most life on the earth, sure a few bad years (long term irradiation) and tracts of the earth are not friendly to human life but life in the area would go on, maybe not as we know it but not Deathclaw style mutants, that's for sure.

    About the worst we could expect is a few years of really shitty harvests, and population die out from that and other human factors (Sickness and War never changes).
  10. King_Rocket

    King_Rocket First time out of the vault

    Apr 21, 2013
  11. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    A nuclear war, on the scale as they expected it in the cold war, at the peak there have been I think more then 18 000 nuclear wareheads deployed, would be very devasting for life on earth, there is no doubt about that. It might even be a possible end for the human race and quite a lot of life on earth, but thats probably just speculation, society as we know though would definitely cease to exist.

    But as far as cosmic or geological events goes? Well. Lets see how old earth is, how old the human race is. Life on earth would not stop completely. It would regenerate and continue. The earth had always to deal with all kinds of radiation. Like from our sun. A lot more in the past then today (millions of years ago). In fact, this radiation was even needed for life to allow mutation. Its not good to have to much radiation but a small amount of it is needed. So a nuclear war would not mean a lot as far as that goes. Give it a few 100 000 years, maybe 1 million years, and you might not even find traces anymore. Evolution will kick in, new species will emerge, and life will continue.
  12. voodzia

    voodzia It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Jun 27, 2005