I've been trying to envision a scenario where global warming is accelerated to the fasted possible speed.

One scenario I thought of was detonating large scale nuclear warheads on the North and South Poles, as well as Greenland.

Russia claims to have missiles, the RS-28 Sarmat (a.k.a. the Satan 2), capable of destroying Texas, France or the U.K. in one hit:

Russian media report that the missile will weigh up to 10 tons with the capacity to carry up to 10 tons of nuclear cargo. With that type of payload, it could deliver a blast some 2,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

How much faster (in general) would global warming proceed if:

  • One missile hit dead center on the ice of the North & South Poles, as well as Greenland

  • Or, an alternative scenario is the missles are placed down inside the ice caps, either halfway down inside the ice, or at the base of the ice, where it meets land (where applicable)

Note: the goal is to melt all the ice on Earth as quickly as possible, so some alterating of the above parameters is acceptable.

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    $\begingroup$ The answer to the question how much the water would rise is the topic of a few questions on here is duplicated. Biggest unknwon here is how much of the blast would melt the ice instantly (or outright vaporize it) vs sending chunks of ice miles into the sky. Remember, only land ice will raise sea levels, sea ice is already displacing the amount of water it contains...melting it will not effect sea levels. About 70m / 230ft is the sea level rise. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Dec 14, 2016 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ How about using the nukes to loosen the ice, so it slides down off the Antarctic or Greenland land masses? As soon as it starts to float, the water levels will go up... $\endgroup$
    – DJohnM
    Dec 14, 2016 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ put huge mirrors over the poles, reflecting lots of sunlight directly onto the icecaps. Darken the icecaps, e.g. with coal dust to increase the effect. One of the advantages is not to irradiate the place so much. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ As I stated in this answer... worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/64021/12297 ....the problem is not the amount of heat we have on the planet, but the balance of incoming and outgoing heat. Us humans are really puny and insignificant when it comes to adding and removing heat from the biosphere. We can make a tiny spot very warm or cold, but that is it. The problems we are making for ourselves in the form of global warming is not that we add or remove heat, but that we have altered the parameters of the the natural processes by unwittingly enhancing the greenhouse effect. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ And even if we were to use the most powerful devices created by mankind — a barrage of nuclear weapons — this is still is as near to nothing as makes no odds because the Sun hits us with the energy equivalent of the Tsar Bomba... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_Bomba ... every second of every minute of every day of every year. Humans are really, really puny... $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Dec 15, 2016 at 11:00

4 Answers 4


The best solution is to not nuke the poles. The poles are really-really-really big. The arctic ice sheet is around 20000km$^3$ of ice, or 20000000000000m$^3$! That's 1.8334 × 10$^1$$^6$ kilograms of ice. Melting ice takes 333.55 kJ/kg, so we'll need about 6,100,000,000 TJ of energy to melt it all.

The RS-28 you reference is believed to be able to deliver a 50Mt warhead. That outputs 209 TJ of TNT. Thus, if you lobbed 10,000 of these, their combined output (2,090,000 TJ) would melt about 0.034% of the ice in the pole.

On the other hand, nuclear war's most terrifying outcome is nuclear winter. Less than a hundred nuclear events is considered sufficient to send the planet into a catastrophic nuclear winter. Your nukes are more likely to have the opposite effect of what you intended!

Frankly, its' good to remember our old friend Order of Magnitude (Energy).

  • 6,100,000,000 TJ -- The firestorm of nukes I just modeled
  • 15,000,000,000 TJ -- The amount of energy from the sun that strikes the planet every day

Planetary scale energies are... special. It's astonishing how small we are.

  • $\begingroup$ Though at some not-to-distant point, nuclear winter could become salvation instead of catastrophe. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Dec 15, 2016 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf From what I have heard, there have been explorations into setting off a controlled set of nuclear weapons to combat global warming. Climate change actually has a nuclear option! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 15, 2016 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon What about the factor that nuke triggered on just ice won't let loose so much ashes and dust, because all that will be burning will be air and water? Then with not much particles released , there won't be such a big effect of nuclear winter. Because the thing is that particles in athmosphere shielding us from sun do the nuclear winter thing. However that does not mean it will be good thing to do, because of radioactive particles directly from bomb. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AntoineHejlík I didn't have numbers for that, which is why there's a safety margin of a hundred fold: My Ice melting calculations are based on 10,000 nukes, while the climate change ones used by the professionals looked at 100 nukes. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon When in doubt, nuke it! $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2016 at 1:19

Just few meters

If only glaziers melted down ocean levels will not go higher , because since the ice is floating on water , if it melted it will be the volume it took from water when it was floating.

But if all the ice melted on land , that will really be a problem . If nukes hit tomorrow, Maldives will go under the sea in few weeks . And most of the islands will not be able to survive.

But the temperature will not go up that fast. Nukes can't destroy all the ice , ice has this heat repellent quality which makes it a bit hard to melt supplying direct heat.that is called Leidenfrost effect Leidenfrost effect.

But ice will shatter around and it will float in the sea creating a thin layer of ice. So this layer of ice will not go away that easily and it will cover the dark , heat absorbing sea .


Nuking the ice will not make the sea level go up that much . And global warming will not go up as fast as the person who nuked the ice thought.

  • $\begingroup$ Does this apply even if the nukes are buried at the bottom of the ice masses before detonating? $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2016 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yes , :-) @ThomBlairIII $\endgroup$
    – lasan
    Dec 14, 2016 at 23:56

TLDR; Not at all

Launching and exploding nuclear warheads in the arctic weathers wouldn't really dislodge much ice or land, and would actually cool the Earth. This phenomenon is known as a nuclear winter, and although is a misnomer regarding firestorms after a nuclear or other such event, by simulating volcanic eruptions that release dust, soot, and other particles into the air following a nuclear explosion, we can simulate the effects. Luckily, it's already been done for us.

enter image description here

As you can see in 1945 (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the average temperature went down when compared to the war years in which industry in numerous countries rose. Essentially by removing firestorms, you're making an artificial and radioactive volcano in an area not only devoid of life, but flammable materials. See here for the effects of volcanoes on climate.

Honestly, the best way to speed up global warming would be to increase the population.


As has already been shown, there's no point nuking the ice. Assuming you still want the ice to melt, your best bet is to darken the ice. If you coat it with a layer of dust, ash or other general pollution it will absorb more heat and give you a greater summer melt.


This trend toward darker snow from soot and dirt has been observed for years. Sources vary from dust blowing off deserts and snow-free Arctic land, to soot from power plants, forest fires, and wood-burning stoves. But now soot and dust are taking a greater toll, according to a report released this week, causing Greenland's ice sheets to darken—and melt—at a faster rate in spring than before 2009.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an awesome idea! Thank you! $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 16:45

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