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Environment / Study suggests nuclear tests may have affected rainfall in isles in 1960s

RESEARCHERS have suggested that nuclear bomb tests during the Cold War may have altered rainfall patterns in Shetland – despite detonations taking place thousands of miles away.

A team of scientists from universities in Reading, Bath and Bristol studied data from 1962 to 1964 from Met Office weather stations in Lerwick and at Kew near London.

They wanted to see if electric charges released by radiation from test detonations – usually carried out by the US and the Soviet Union in areas like Nevada and the Pacific and Arctic islands in the 1950s and 1960s – affected rainclouds.

Scientists concluded that there was “significant changes occurred in daily rainfall distribution” at the Shetland weather station outside of normal pollution.

The study compared days with high and low radioactively-generated charge, with scientists finding that clouds were visibly thicker, while there was 24 per cent more rain on average on the days with more radioactivity.

Lead author and professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Reading professor Giles Harrison said: “By studying the radioactivity released from Cold War weapons tests, scientists at the time learnt about atmospheric circulation patterns. We have now reused this data to examine the effect on rainfall.

“The politically charged atmosphere of the Cold War led to a nuclear arms race and worldwide anxiety. Decades later, that global cloud has yielded a silver lining, in giving us a unique way to study how electric charge affects rain.”