Did Smoke From City Fires in World War II Cause Global Cooling?

Alan Robock, Brian Zambri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Between 3 February and 9 August 1945, an area of 461 km2 in 69 Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was burned during the U.S. B-29 Superfortress air raids. In the previous 5 years, 205 km2 in German cities were destroyed, so the smoke that was generated was spread out over a much longer period of time than that from Japan in 1945. Observations of solar irradiance show reductions consistent with the hypothesis that smoke was injected into the stratosphere by the city fires. Historical simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5, with no smoke in their forcing, showed no postwar cooling. Global average surface air temperature observations during and following World War II are problematic, because of issues with measuring sea surface temperatures, but there were no large volcanic eruptions, El Niño, or La Niña during this period to confuse the record. Nevertheless, 1945 and 1946 global average land surface air temperatures were not significantly lower than the average for 1940–1944. Estimates of the amount of smoke generated by the fires are somewhat uncertain. Although the climate record is consistent with an expected 0.1–0.2 K cooling, because of multiple uncertainties in smoke injected to the stratosphere, solar radiation observations, and surface temperature observations, it is not possible to formally detect a cooling signal from World War II smoke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10,314-10,325
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 27 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • World War II
  • fires
  • nuclear winter
  • smoke


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