The nuclear age that started in the Cold War changed almost everything on our planet. Of course, not just geopolitically. Official numbers speak of more than 2,000 tests with nuclear weapons. They were carried out in deserts, underground holes, remote islands or in the middle of space. What was the result? Air, land and water pollution of the planet. In the United States alone, the explosions caused 11,000 cancer deaths. And, according to a study published in Physical Review Letters, we also need to think about how atomic bombs have changed the planet's climate.
Research concludes that atomic tests have changed the function of the atmosphere and the patterns of precipitation. Even thousands of miles from where the explosions took place. The authors of the study analyzed how the electrical charge released by radiation affects the formation of rain clouds.
"By studying the radiation released by weapon tests in the Cold War, the researchers got to know the atmospheric circulation patterns at the time." That explains Giles Harrison, director of studies and professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Reading. "Now we're reusing this data to investigate the impact on rainfall."
Electricity and rain
It has always been suspected that electric charge changes the way hot water droplets collide and connect in the atmosphere. They would affect droplet size by modulating the precipitation. But it was difficult to prove.
Cold War nuclear tests have been conducted in remote locations such as the Nevada desert, the United States, or distant Pacific or Arctic islands. However, the radioactive contamination spread in the atmosphere and reached the entire globe. Radioactivity can ionize the air and release an electrical charge.
The data from atomic tests and meteorological records make it possible to relate precipitation and the presence of electrical charge. Nuclear tests "offer us a unique opportunity to study how electric charge affects rain," says Harrison.
Nuclear tests in favor of thick clouds
Scientists analyzed meteorological records from 1962 to 1964. They were collected by the Lerwick Observatory in Scotland. A place that is so remote that it has not been affected by other sources of pollution.
They compared the meteorological information from this observatory with atomic tests. This is how they discovered what happened when the electrical charge was higher due to a nuclear test. The clouds tended to be thicker and there was an average of 24% more precipitation.
The researchers are convinced that they have learned how the load affects rain clouds. You will be able to better understand other important meteorological processes. This knowledge can also help to study cloud geoengineering. The goal is to mitigate the effects of droughts or floods by stimulating or preventing the formation of clouds.
Knowing how atomic bombs have changed weather and their relationship to clouds is valuable information for Harrison. In fact, he is leading a project in the United Arab Emirates. Investigate how electric charge affects clouds and dust. It is part of the science program to improve the country's rain.