Devastating Beirut Explosion Sent Waves into the Ionosphere with the Force of a Volcano Eruption

On August 4, 2020, the port of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was the scene of a tragic explosion. One of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions in history, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrates exploded.

The catastrophic incident killed 210 people, injured 7,500 and left 300,000 homeless. An international team of scientists has now published detailed investigations into the effects of the explosion on the outer layer of the atmosphere, the ionosphere. It appears that the Beirut eruption was more competitive than previously seen in volcanic eruptions. The findings published in scientific reports.

The ionosphere, as the name implies, is the ionized region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, extending from 48 to 965 kilometers (30 to 600 miles). The solar radiation that hits the molecules in these region ions separates the electrons from the molecules. The ionosphere can disrupt by celestial events such as geomagnetic storms or by events occurring on the ground.

Devastating Beirut Explosion Sent Waves into the Ionosphere with the Force of a Volcano Eruption

In addition, not just natural phenomena like volcanic eruptions. Human activity affects it; the ultimate example of this is nuclear tests. Changes in the ionosphere can measured in an interesting way. These affect the GPS signals. GPS receivers and transmitters usually consider small changes but for extraordinary events, the signals can use as a way to study the ionosphere. 

The eruption of Beirut created a wave through the ionosphere that was larger than the amount created by the eruption of the Assamese volcano in Japan in 2004. Co-author Kosuke Heki, from the University of Hokkaido, said in a statement, “We found that the explosion produced a wave that traveled southward in the ionosphere at a speed of about 0.8 kilometers (0.5 miles) per second.” 

The explosion occurred in 2014 due to ammonium nitrate (mainly used as a fertilizer and as an explosives component) stored mostly in a warehouse. About half a minute later, the whole deposit exploded with a force equal to 1.1 kilotons TNT, like a low-productive atomic bomb. The blast heard 240 kilometers (150 miles) away in Cyprus. It recorded as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake by the Geological Survey of the United States and has an orbit visible over 140 kilometers (460 feet).