To cause a nuclear winter (where the emissions of the nuke block out the atmosphere and create a long lasting period of winter) you need to set off only 100 nukes in quick succession. This made me ask myself, could you use nukes as part of the terraforming process?

In history, only two nuclear bombs have ever been used in warfare and an estimated 2120 bombs have been tested. Considering that when combined, the US and Russia have over 1400 bombs, there is a surplus of nukes.

What contribution could nuclear weapons have on the environment in a terraforming sense? Could nuclear weapons have any effect on terraforming, let's say mars? If they did have an effect, would the scale of it make it feasible?


My question differs from this one in that I am asking about making another planet earthlike through nukes while the other asks how to increase the rate of global warming through nukes. While similar, they are different.

  • $\begingroup$ I've heard this a couple times, and some people have considered it very seriously for Mars; however, retaining an atmosphere after you create it is a whole new question. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Jan 6, 2017 at 5:46
  • $\begingroup$ Unnecessary: just drop rocks from orbit for the same effect. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 6, 2017 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Your question assumes nuclear winter is an of from the emissions of the weapon itself. That is wrong. If an nuclear winter could be affected — and there is some serious doubt if this is even possible — that would an effect of soot and dust being lifted into the atmosphere by the fireball. This would be geoengineering by the way, not terraforming. Terraforming is a specific branch of geoengineering but geoengineering consists of more than just terraforming. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jan 6, 2017 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ So to the essence of the question: can throwing lots of dust into the atmosphere help in terraforming? Maybe... but it would have to be a very specific situation for it. If you would ever need to for instance lower the average temperature on a planetary surface, then that could work. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jan 6, 2017 at 9:48
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ While the question may not be exactly the same, the answer is. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 6, 2017 at 14:04

1 Answer 1



I was surprised to learn that nuclear winter isn't so much a result of nuclear bombs going off, but rather of an enormous amount of soot or other airborne particles staying in the air long enough to prevent the sun from warming the ground. According to Wikipedia:

Nuclear winter is the severe global-climatic-cooling-effect, hypothesized to occur after the ignition of a number of firestorms. Such fires, which can inject soot into the stratosphere have historically occurred in a number of cities, with nuclear winter researchers using both Hamburg and the less ferocious Hiroshima firestorms as the principle examples. However, as firestorms are most frequently encountered in much larger area wildfires, these latter fires are the most significant today in assessing both the initial and present-day "nuclear winter" computer models.

As nuclear devices need not be involved in the ignition of a firestorm, the term is a common misnomer. This is due, in greatest part, to the vast majority of published papers stating, without qualitative justification, that nuclear explosions are the cause of the modeled firestorm effects. The only phenomenon that is scrutinized and computer modeled in the nuclear winter papers is the climate forcing agent of firestorm-soot, a product which can be ignited and formed by a myriad of other, more common, means. Although rarely discussed, the proponents of the hypothesis do state that the same "nuclear winter" effect would occur if 100 conventionally lit firestorms were ignited.

So, the key apparently is the need for lots of soot to get into the air suddenly. If the poles on the planet have lots of burnable materials, then it seems possible you could get enough soot.


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