Published: Aug. 2, 2017

When a nuclear bomb goes off, it starts a chain of events whose effects reach far beyond the blast site. Over the next three years, Professor Yunping Xi of civil, environmental and architectural engineering will be involved in a study to quantify those effects in the event of a nuclear war.

The study brings together a diverse group of researchers, led by CU Boulder Professor Brian Toon and Rutgers University Professor Alan Robock, who were part of the first studies that formulated the “nuclear winter” theory in the early 1980s.

Each researcher will look at a link in the chain of events set into motion by a nuclear conflict, Xi explained. For instance, a group of nuclear weapon experts will begin by developing potential nuclear war scenarios, in which numbers of weapons and targets will be determined.

Then, Xi and his team will examine what happens if a bomb hits a large metropolitan area, burning everything from buildings and bridges, to the contents of trash collection sites.  

“The temperature at the blast center is very high. Buildings will burn, along with all of their contents – furniture, books and flammable construction materials,” he explained.

Xi said they will start with data collected by other organizations on construction materials used in structures and infrastructures in major cities. Then, they’ll integrate research he’s done previously on how those materials react to high temperatures, and then determine the amount of elemental carbons and other chemicals generated from a targeted city.

Their goal is to help determine how much soot will be released into the atmosphere in each selected nuclear war scenarios. From there, other teams at The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Rutgers University will study how that soot moves and spreads, and how it affects climate, agriculture, food supply and much more.

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