Climate science has Cold War roots

Updated July 17, 2012 at 1:41 PM
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ANN ARBOR, Mich., July 13 (UPI) -- Cold War research and the science used to track radioactivity and model nuclear bomb blasts are making contributions to climate science, researcher say.

Climate science and nuclear weapons testing have a long and perhaps surprisingly intimate relationship, University of Michigan historian Paul Edwards writes in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, for example, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization tracked the radioactive plume emanating from damaged Japanese nuclear reactors with a global network of monitoring stations that were designed to measure airborne radiation -- a direct descendant of systems created to trace the fallout from weapons tests, Edwards writes.

Cold War research has found a place in the environmental scientist's toolbox, he writes.

The earliest global climate models relied on numerical methods similar to those developed by nuclear weapons designers analyzing shock waves produced in nuclear explosions, he said.

Facilities built during the Cold War 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.

"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 said.

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