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:
*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.
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.
Mapped: Second Primary Languages Around the World
This fascinating map highlights the second most commonly spoken primary language in almost nearly every country.
Mapped: Second Primary Languages Around the World
After the primary language, what second languages are used as native tongues in your country?
The answer reveals a lot about history and location. Whether through immigration, colonization, or local culture, a primary language can either spread around the world or remain rooted in place.
This map from MoveHub shows the second most commonly spoken primary language in most countries, using data from the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia as of February 2021.
The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Languages
First, it’s important to differentiate between primary languages and secondary languages.
A primary language—also known as a first or native language—is the language we use most frequently to communicate. These are languages we are usually born with, have a lot of exposure to, and use at home.
On the other hand, a secondary language is one we learn or pick up after our primary language. In many countries, English is the most commonly learned, with close to 1 billion speakers.
But a map of common second languages can simply show just how many countries prioritize learning English, the de-facto international language in many organizations. Instead, this map highlights the movement of people by showing the second-most common primary language.
The Second Most Common Primary Languages by Country
Even when filtering by primary language use, however, English and other Indo-European languages dominate the world.
With 55 countries speaking it as the second-most common primary language, English came out on top.
|Top 10 Most Popular Second Primary Languages||Number of Countries|
The use of English as a second primary language was primarily concentrated in Western Europe, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia and Oceania.
Similarly to second-place French with 14 countries and third-place Russian with 13 countries, English was most common in proximity to English-speaking countries or where there was a history of immigration.
Other second-most common primary languages highlighted different cultures within countries, such as China’s second-most common language Cantonese. Alternatively, they showed the primary indigenous language before colonization, such as the Quechua languages in South America.
What other interesting or surprising language patterns can you spot in the map above?
Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
This detailed map looks at where humans have (and haven’t) modified Earth’s terrestrial environment. See human impact in incredible detail.
Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
With human population on Earth approaching 8 billion (we’ll likely hit that milestone in 2023), our impact on the planet is becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.
Our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution are all forms of stress we place on the natural world. This map, by David M. Theobald et al., shows just how much of the planet we’ve now modified. The researchers estimate that 14.6% or 18.5 million km² of land area has been modified – an area greater than Russia.
Defining Human Impact
Human impact on the Earth’s surface can take a number of different forms, and researchers took a nuanced approach to classifying the “modifications” we’ve made. In the end, 10 main stressors were used to create this map:
- Built-Up Areas: All of our cities and towns
- Agriculture: Areas devoted to crops and pastures
- Energy and extractive resources: Primarily locations where oil and gas are extracted
- Mines and quarries: Other ground-based natural resource extraction, excluding oil and gas
- Power plants: Areas where energy is produced – both renewable and non-renewable
- Transportation and service corridors: Primarily roads and railways
- Logging: This measures commodity-based forest loss (excludes factors like wildfire and urbanization)
- Human intrusion: Typically areas adjacent to population centers and roads that humans access
- Natural systems modification: Primarily modifications to water flow, including reservoir creation
- Pollution: Phenomenon such as acid rain and fog caused by air pollution
The classification descriptions above are simplified. See the methodology for full descriptions and calculations.
A Closer Look at Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface
To help better understand the level of impact humans can have on the planet, we’ll take a closer look three regions, and see how the situation on the ground relates to these maps.
Land Use Contrasts: Egypt
Almost all of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile and its delta, making it an interesting place to examine land use and human impact.
The towns and high intensity agricultural land following the river stand out clearly on the human modification map, while the nearby desert shows much less impact.
Intensive Modification: Netherlands
The Netherlands has some of the heavily modified landscapes on Earth, so the way it looks on this map will come as no surprise.
The area shown above, Rotterdam’s distinctive port and surround area, renders almost entirely in colors at the top of the human modification scale.
Resource Extraction: West Virginia
It isn’t just cities and towns that show up clearly on this map, it’s also the areas we extract our raw materials from as well. This mountainous region of West Virginia, in the United States, offers a very clear visual example.
The mountaintop removal method of mining—which involves blasting mountains in order to retrieve seams of bituminous coal—is common in this region, and mine sites show up clearly in the map.
You can explore the interactive version of this map yourself to view any area on the globe. What surprises you about these patterns of human impact?
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