(CN) – Fallout from a nuclear war between Pakistan and India would not devastate just those two nations. Smoke from the devastating fires could create instant climate change, stunting crops across the globe and taking at least a decade to clear up, according to new research.
This catastrophic scenario is laid out in a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
India and Pakistan both lay claim to the territory of Kashmir, a region split and controlled by the countries. This summer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the revocation of special status from the northern state of the territory, ending its political autonomy and straining relationships with the Muslim population.
Pakistani President Imran Khan recently told Newsweek that India has pushed the region to the “brink of war” and that “any military exchange will not remain limited, it can and we fear it would escalate to the nuclear level, that is tantamount to nuclear Armageddon.”
Wednesday’s study – co-written by Rutgers University-New Brunswick environmental science professor Alan Robock – calculated the effects of a scenario in which the two nations engaged in nuclear war in the year 2025.
Robock, a climatologist, says nuclear weapons are stronger than they were a decade ago and the two nations continue to add to their stockpiles.
“The situation is much worse than it was before,” Robock said in an interview. “A war between the two countries could threaten global food production.”
Both nations have an estimated 400 to 500 nuclear weapons. If launched at each other, the fires from these weapons would generate 16 million to 36 million tons of soot in smoke that would rise into the upper atmosphere and blanket the entire planet within weeks, according to scenarios detailed in the study.
In the scenario, India would use 100 strategic weapons and Pakistan 150. The attacks would result in an estimated 50 million to 125 million deaths directly, with additional deaths from mass starvation possible worldwide.
Researchers used climate models that typically measure a volcanic eruption’s impact on the climate.
By changing the value to soot, the study results show that solar radiation would be absorbed, heating the air and boosting smoke from the nuclear war. About 20% to 35% of all sunlight would be blocked from the earth, cooling the surface by 3.6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit and reducing rainfall by 15% to 30%.
Vegetation growth would decline by 15% to 30% on land and ocean productivity would drop by 5% to 15%.
It would take 10 years for all the smoke to break up in the upper atmosphere.
Robock says the status of nuclear disarmament seems to be a much more pressing matter in other nations, but does not get as much traction in the U.S.
“We worry about tipping points in the climate system all the time,” Robock added. “Methane bubbling from the melting frozen tundra. There are also tipping points in human behavior. I think we’re in a tipping point with young people demanding change.”
The study authors say the results should prompt support for the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which led to the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.