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Subject: A nuclear bomb in the Artic or Antartica
Herc the Merc    7/26/2005 1:42:31 PM
How big a bomb would you estimate to start precipitous global warming?
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happyman77    RE:A nuclear bomb in the Artic or Antartica   7/26/2005 11:09:28 PM
Hasn't one of the fears of nuclear weapons the creations of 'winters?'
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eon    RE:A nuclear bomb in the Artic or Antartica   8/1/2005 3:20:51 PM
Answer; one large enough to crack open the crust down to the mantle, resulting in magma release. Such a bomb would be in the 5 to 6 gigaton range, and no such bomb has ever existed. With present technology, it would be the size of a medium-sized diesel submarine, and I don't see how you would keep the sub-critical masses from spontaneously fusing resulting in a chain flashfire before you could set it off properly. This is basically a space-opera science fiction concept- H. Beam Piper called it a "planetbuster", mainly because if it detonated on the surface of a planet, "global warming" would be the >least< of that world's problems. It also would only work in the Antarctic; since the Arctic icecap floats on the top of the ocean, it would have to be detonated on the sea floor (average depth 6000ft+). This might fracture some deep pressure ridges (and scare the hell out of any fish far enough away to not be friccasseed by the blast), but would otherwise only be noticed by seismologists. A more likely scenario to "melt the icecaps" would be to seed them with something to increase heat retention. Coal dust, lampblack, or dark-colored volcanic sand (like you find on the North Shore of Hawaii) are all possibilities. They would tend to increase solar heat retention during the six months' "day"- and melt the icecap down about a foot wherever they were before they were frozen in by the six months' night. However, the amount needed would be on the order of five tons per acre (about three per hectare, IIRC the relationship between an acre and a hectare- I probably don't); I'll let you figure out how many million tons would be needed to do a proper job of it. This is the sort of "doomsday scenario" I'd expect to find in a deep-ecology newsletter- or a really >bad< 1960s "James Bond" -ripoff spy movie. It can't be taken seriously from a scientific standpoint. (But if some terrorists- or "deep greens"- try it, the results should be hilarious.)
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Pseudonym    RE:A nuclear bomb in the Artic or Antartica   8/1/2005 3:27:40 PM
Didn't the Soviets design a bomb to destroy the planet?
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eon    RE:Soviet planet-buster   8/1/2005 4:29:04 PM
Yes, in 1959. It was intended to be a "dirty" bomb, with a cobalt 60 casing, to be detonated over the North American continent at high altitude. The result was to have been radioactive dust carried worldwide by high-altitude winds, the idea being to fatally irradiate every corner of the earth. This was to be, in the words of Herman Kahn, a "post-spasm" weapon, only to be used in event they had already lost a full nuclear exchange. However, when they tried to assemble it, they found that (A) there was too much subcritical mass in close proximity to avoid spontaneous flashfire effects, and (B) even if they could have assmbled it, and it didn't "cook off" in storage, they had no missile capable of lofting its over 100-ton total mass into a suborbital trajectory. The bomb, one of Stalin's "inspirations", was quietly dismantled in 1960 on Khruschev's orders- after first making sure that Castro knew nothing of it. (He would have >demanded< it be placed in Cuba for nuclear-blackmail purpose; cf. the Cuban Missile Crisis two years later.) There is a long-standing rumor tha the U.S. had something similar. The apparent source of this story was the novel "The Day After Judgement" by James Blish, in which he referred to a MARVed Titan named "Old Mombi", which carried a dozen cobalt-cased fusion warheads, to be detonated at discrete points around the Earth to acheive the same rsult as the (real) Russian project- plus a thirteenth one ("unlucky 13") to be detonated on the Moon to render >it< uninhabitable for the next 10,000 years (at least). In his afterword, Blish stated that he invented the missile for the story, and knew of no real-life U.S. counterpart- but the story persists nonetheless. It's probably still out there as an "urban legend", even today. I repeat; >It was a fictional plot device in a novel. It never really existed.< (I tell you three times.)
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ArtyEngineer    RE:Soviet planet-buster   8/1/2005 11:48:31 PM
But the concept is scientifically sound, if you were crazy enough to built it it would be possible to irradiate the world without too much trouble.
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eon    RE:Blish's Big Bomb   8/2/2005 7:19:40 AM
Absolutely. Blish wanted a "doomsday weapon" >he< could believe in, and he was a pretty smart guy scientifically. Considering that the two novels in question (Faust Aleph Null and The Day After Judgement) are a retelling of Dante's Inferno set in the (then) near-future (he wrote them in the late 1960s), he probably figured he needed to keep the "real-world" part validated. (In the novels, the MARVed Titan comes into the story as a possible first-strike weapon, when the city of Dis appears in the middle of Death Valley thanks to the machinations of a too-clever-by-half Aleister Crowley-type. Things get stranger from there. Blish also quotes his own version of Kahn's "Ladder of Escalation", which in spite of his denial of veracity in the postscript is actually very close to the real one Kahn established in 1962.)
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