The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000
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The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions Since 2000

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ammonium nitrate explosions

The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000

This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.

This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage.

Today’s graphic outlines the biggest accidental ammonium nitrate explosions over the last 20 years.

A Brief Explanation of Ammonium Nitrate

Before getting into the details, first thing’s first—what is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is formed when ammonia gas is combined with liquid nitric acid. The chemical compound is widely used in agriculture as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in mining explosives. It’s highly combustible when combined with oils and other fuels, but not flammable on its own unless exposed to extremely high temperatures.

It’s actually relatively tough for a fire to cause an ammonium nitrate explosion—but that hasn’t stopped it from happening numerous times in the last few decades.

The Death Toll

Some explosions involving ammonium nitrate have been deadlier than others. Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from each blast:

YearLocationCountryDeaths
2015TianjinChina165
2004RyongchonNorth Korea160
2020BeirutLebanon157*
2007MonclovaMexico57
2001ToulouseFrance30
2003Saint-Romain-en-JarezFrance26
2004MihăileştiRomania18
2013WestUnited States15
2004BarracasSpain2
2014WyandraAustralia0

*Note: death count in Beirut as of Aug 6, 2020. Casualty count expected to increase as more information comes available.

One of the deadliest explosions happened in Tianjin, China in 2015. A factory was storing flammable chemicals with ammonium nitrate, and because they weren’t being stored properly, one of the chemicals got too dry and caught fire. The blast killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion dollars in damage.

In 2001, 14 years before the explosion in Tianjin, a factory exploded in Toulouse, France. The accident killed 30 people and injured 2,500. The power of the blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of TNT, meaning that 40 to 80 tons of ammonium nitrate would have ignited.

In addition to factory explosions, there have been several transportation accidents involving ammonium nitrate. In 2007, a truck in Mexico blew up and killed over 57 people. Filled with explosives, the truck crashed into a pickup, caught fire, and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot long crater in its wake.

The Aftermath

While there have been several ammonium nitrate accidents throughout history, the recent tragedy in Beirut is one of the largest accidental explosions ever recorded, with 157 deaths and 5,000 injuries and counting.

In terms of TNT equivalent, a measure used to gauge the impact of an explosion, it ranks in the top 10 of the largest accidental explosions in history:

Topping the list is yet another ammonium nitrate explosion, this time back in 1947.

Known to history as the Texas City Disaster, the port accident was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions to occur in history. The explosion killed over 500 people and injured thousands. The impact from the blast was so intense, it created a 15-foot wave that crashed along the docks and caused flooding in the area.

A Resource With Trade-Offs

Despite being dangerous, ammonium nitrate is still a valuable resource. There’s been an increased demand for the chemical from North America’s agricultural sector, and because of this, ammonium nitrate’s market size is expected to see an increase of more than 3% by 2026.

Because of its increasing market size, it’s more important than ever for trade industries to enforce proper safety measures when storing and transporting ammonium nitrate. When safety regulations aren’t followed, accidents can happen—and as we saw this week, the aftermath can be devastating.

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Science

Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

All living things have a genetic system made up of DNA. This graphic explores the basics of DNA composition and structure.

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Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.

But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?

This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.

Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA

A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.

This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).

While most living things rely on a mix of DNA and RNA for cellular reproduction, some viruses just use RNA to store their genetic information and replicate faster.

DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.

Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms

Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!

This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.

Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:

OrganismKingdomSize of genomes (number of base pairs)
Poplar treePlant500,000,000
HumanAnimal3,200,000,000
ChimpanzeeAnimal3,300,000,000
Marbled lungfishAnimal130,000,000,000
DogAnimal2,400,000,000
WheatPlant16,800,000,000
PufferfishAnimal400,000,000
Canopy plantPlant150,000,000,000
Mouse-ear cressPlant140,000,000
CornPlant2,300,000,000
MouseAnimal2,800,000,000
MossPlant510,000,000
Fruit FlyAnimal140,000,000
C. ruddiiBacteria160,000
S. pombeFungi13,000,000
S. cerevisiaeFungi12,000,000
S. cellulosumBacteria13,000,000
H. pyloriBacteria1,700,000
E. coliBacteria4,600,000
Panadoravirus s.Virus2,800,000
HIV-1Virus9,700
Influenza AVirus14,000
BacteriophageVirus49,000
Hepatitis D virusVirus1,700

The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.

Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.

In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.

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Politics

Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?

Beyond the 15 nations under the British monarchy, 28 other countries still have a ruling monarch. Here’s a look at the world’s monarchies.

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Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the question of monarchy is brought sharply into focus.

However, a surprising number of countries have ruling monarchs, and in this visual we break down the kinds of royal leadership across the 43 countries that still have them.

Types of Monarchies

A monarch in the simplest sense is a country’s king, queen, emir, or sultan, and so on. But before diving in, it’s important to break down the distinctions between the types of monarchies that exist today. Generally, there are four kinds:

① Constitutional Monarchy

The monarch divides power with a constitutionally founded government. In this situation, the monarch, while having ceremonial duties and certain responsibilities, does not have any political power. For example, the UK’s monarch must sign all laws to make them official, but has no power to change or reject new laws.

Here are some examples of countries with constitutional monarchies:

🇯🇵  Japan
🇬🇧  United Kingdom
🇩🇰  Denmark

② Absolute Monarchy

The monarch has full and absolute political power. They can amend, reject, or create laws, represent the country’s interests abroad, appoint political leaders, and so on.

Here are some examples of countries with absolute monarchies:

🇸🇿  Eswatini
🇸🇦  Saudi Arabia
🇻🇦  Vatican City

③ Federal Monarchy

The monarch serves an overall figurehead of the federation of states which have their own governments, or even monarchies, ruling them.

Here are some examples of countries with federal monarchies:

🇦🇪  UAE
🇲🇾  Malaysia

Malaysia is a unique form of federal monarchy. Every five years, each state’s royal leaders choose amongst themselves who will be the monarch, or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, of Malaysia and the respective states. Furthermore, the monarchy is also constitutional, allowing a democratically elected body to govern.

④ Mixed Monarchy

This is a situation wherein an absolute monarch may divide powers in distinct ways specific to the country.

Here are some examples of countries with mixed monarchies:

🇯🇴  Jordan
🇱🇮  Liechtenstein
🇲🇦  Morocco

Interestingly, Liechtenstein is the only European monarchy that still practises strict agnatic primogeniture. Under agnatic primogeniture, the degree of kinship is determined by tracing descent from the nearest common ancestor through male ancestors.

Kings, Queens, Emperors, and Sultans Around the Globe

Now let’s break down the different monarchies country by country:

CountryType of MonarchyTitle of Head of StateMonarchTitle of Head of Government
🇦🇩 AndorraConstitutionalCo-PrincesJoan-Enric Vives, Emmanuel MacronPrime Minister
🇦🇬 Antigua and BarbudaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇦🇺 AustraliaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇧🇭 BahrainMixedKingHamad bin Isa Al KhalifaPrime Minister
🇧🇪 BelgiumConstitutionalKing PhilippePrime Minister
🇧🇿 BelizeConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇧🇹 BhutanConstitutionalKingJigme Khesar Namgyel WangchuckPrime Minister
🇧🇳 Brunei DarussalamAbsoluteSultanHassanal BolkiahSultan
🇰🇭 CambodiaConstitutionalKingNorodom SihamoniPrime Minister
🇨🇦 CanadaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇩🇰 DenmarkConstitutionalQueenMargrethe IIPrime Minister
🇸🇿 EswatiniAbsoluteKingMswati IIIPrime Minister
🇬🇩 GrenadaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇯🇲 JamaicaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇯🇵 JapanConstitutionalEmperorNaruhitoPrime Minister
🇯🇴 JordanMixedKingAbdullah IIPrime Minister
🇰🇼 KuwaitMixedEmirNawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-SabahPrime Minister
🇱🇸 LesothoConstitutionalKingLetsie IIIPrime Minister
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein MixedSovereign PrinceHans-Adam IIPrime Minister
🇱🇺 LuxembourgConstitutionalGrand DukeHenriPrime Minister
🇲🇾 MalaysiaConstitutional & FederalYang di-Pertuan AgongAbdullahPrime Minister
🇲🇨 MonacoMixedSovereign PrinceAlbert IIMinister of State
🇲🇦 MoroccoMixedKingMohammed VIPrime Minister
🇳🇱 NetherlandsConstitutionalKingWillem-AlexanderPrime Minister
🇳🇿 New ZealandConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇳🇴 NorwayConstitutionalKingHarald VPrime Minister
🇴🇲 OmanAbsoluteSultanHaitham bin TarikSultan
🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇶🇦 QatarMixedEmirTamim bin Hamad Al ThaniPrime Minister
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and NevisConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇱🇨 Saint LuciaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaAbsoluteKingSalmanPrime Minister
🇸🇧 Solomon IslandsConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇪🇸 SpainConstitutionalKingFelipe VIPresident of the Government
🇸🇪 SwedenConstitutionalKingCarl XVI GustafPrime Minister
🇹🇭 ThailandConstitutionalKingRama XPrime Minister
🇧🇸 The BahamasConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇹🇴 TongaConstitutionalKingTupou VIPrime Minister
🇹🇻 TuvaluConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇦🇪 UAEFederalPresidentMohamed bin Zayed Al NahyanPrime Minister
🇬🇧 UKConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇻🇦 Vatican CityAbsolutePopeFrancisPresident of the Pontifical Commission

Constitutional monarchies are undoubtedly the most popular form of royal leadership in the modern era⁠, making up close to 70% of all monarchies. This situation allows for democratically elected governments to rule the country, while the monarch performs ceremonial duties.

Most monarchs are hereditary, inheriting their position by luck of their birth, but interestingly, French president, Emmanuel Macron, technically serves as a Co-Prince of Andorra.

Another unique case is the Vatican’s Pope Francis, who has absolute power in the small independent city⁠—he gained his role thanks to an election process known as a papal conclave.

The Role of Monarchies

One of the most notable and famous ruling monarchies is the United Kingdom’s House of Windsor⁠—also known as Queen Elizabeth II’s family. King Charles III has now ascended to the country’s throne, making him head of state in 15 nations total, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Many see the benefit in having a stable and consistent form of tradition and decorum at the country’s head of state.

“The Crown is an integral part of the institution of Parliament. The Queen [now King] plays a constitutional role in opening and dissolving Parliament and approving Bills before they become law.” – British Parliament

Japan’s royal family has been a prime example of stability, having reigned in the country for more than 2,600 years under the same hereditary line.

Critiques and the Future of Monarchy

Some claim, however, that there is no function of monarchy in the modern day, and complaints of monarchies’ immense wealth and power are rampant.

For example, according to the Dutch government, King Willem-Alexander’s budget for 2022, funded by the state and thus, taxpayers, comes out to more than €48 million.

Beyond tax dollars, with absolute monarchies there is typically a lack of political freedoms and certain rights. Saudi Arabia, for example, has no national elections. Rather its king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, stays in power for life, appoints the cabinet himself, and passes laws by royal decree.

The death of Queen Elizabeth, though, may bring about change though for many of the world’s royally-governed. Since Barbados’ removal of her as head of state in 2021, six other Caribbean nations have expressed the desire to do the same, namely:

🇧🇿  Belize
🇧🇸  The Bahamas
🇯🇲  Jamaica
🇬🇩  Grenada
🇦🇬  Antigua and Barbuda
🇰🇳  St. Kitts and Nevis

The future of monarchy in the 21st century is certainly not a guarantee.

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