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IN BRIEF

Science/Medicine : Famine Traced to Volcano

December 14, 1987

An ancient volcanic eruption in Iceland likely triggered a famine that killed half China's population, bolstering fears that a "nuclear winter" would cause mass starvation after a nuclear war, says a NASA astronomer.

Kevin Pang said the sunlight-blocking effect of a very large eruption in 210 BC resulted in a "volcanic winter" forcing "very severe disturbances in world agriculture."

"This fairly big eruption in Iceland caused something like half the Chinese people to die," he said. "If you scale it up to a nuclear winter, you can imagine how much worse it would get."

Nuclear winter is the theory that smoke from burning cities and forests during nuclear war would block enough sunlight to darken and chill the Northern Hemisphere, possibly causing crop failures.

Pang works at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

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