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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Demographics

Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries

These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.

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beautifully rendered population density maps of six major countries

As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.

In the last 100 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.

This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.

France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs

Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.

This image shows a map of France and its population spread.

France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.

Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.

This image shows a map of Germany and its population spread.

Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.

That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).

Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast

In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.

This image shows a map of Italy and its population spread.

Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.

The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.

This image shows a map of Chile and its population spread.

Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.

However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.

Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes

Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.

This image shows a map of Türkiye and its population spread.

Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.

Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.

This image shows a map of Canada and its population spread.

In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.

Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.

Increasing Urbanization

According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.

By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.

It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.

As Teo puts it:

“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”

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