2020 Beirut Explosion — Negligence or Missile? (Quick Analysis of the Main Blast) [UPDATE : The FBI is dead wrong. Again!]

“It is possible that it (the explosion) was caused by negligence or by external action, with a missile or a bomb.”

Lebanese president Michel Aoun (Friday August 7 2020)

August 10 2020 — On August 4 2020, a devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut killed about 150 people and injured more than 1500. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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“The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing.” — Reuters (July 30 2021)

UPDATE (August 02 2021) — According to a FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, the Bureau forensic scientists have estimated that around 552 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4 2020 in the Port of Beirut, much less than the 2,754 tonnes that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013. [REUTERS — FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment]

The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing. (…)

The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.

In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.

FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.

A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.

Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen. (…)

The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.

Let me be very clear. This is complete nonsense!

Most of the blast was directed into the surrounding air, not into the solid ground, so a
80% reduction in apparent yield is to be expected as I explained at the time in this post.

About the 2015 Tianjin explosions

One year ago, I wrote:

An expert from Yale University told Intel Today: “Much of the blast was directed into the surrounding air, not into the solid ground, so I would expect a lower yield estimate. A 80% reduction in apparent yield seems reasonable.”

I may be able to find some information on the decoupling factor from similar previous tragedies such as the 2015 explosion in Tianjin, China.

Here are the facts.

On August 12 2015, a series of explosions killed 173 people, according to official reports, and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin.

The main explosion involved the detonation of about 800 tons of ammonium nitrate which is about 256 tons TNT equivalent.

At around 23:30 (15:30 UTC), the first explosion occurred and registered as a magnitude 2.3 earthquake, generating seismic shock-waves energetically equivalent to 2.9 tonnes of TNT.

After 30 seconds, a second, much more powerful explosion occurred, causing most of the damage and injuries with shock-waves felt many kilometres away.

The second explosion registered as a magnitude 2.9 earthquake and generated seismic shock-waves with energy equivalent to 21.9 tonnes of TNT.

In other words, the decoupling is 22/256 , which is equivalent to about 90%. This is what one should expect. No surprise.

About TNT equivalent and seismic shock-waves

For well-tamped contained underground explosion tests conducted in hard ground, the magnitude of body waves is proportional to the logarithm of the yield in kilotons of TNT : Mb = 3.8 +0.75 log (Y). The parameters of this equation are obviously depending on the exact nature of the ground.

In my initial post, I used an Ammonium nitrate – TNT RE (relative effectiveness) factor of 0.42. Thus 2,750 tons of AN equates to about 1.1 Kiloton of TNT. But values as low as 0.32 and as high as 0.50 have been used by others.

I have used the magnitude 3.3 as reported by the United States Geological Survey. Others have reported higher values. The UC Berkeley Seismology Laboratory measured mb=3.4 and the German Research Centre for Geosciences, GFZ obtained mb=3.5.

If I had used a magnitude 3.5, I would have obtained a yield of about 0.4 kilotons of TNT (instead of 0.2). And if I had chosen a low value of TNT RE (.3 instead of 0.4), that is equivalent to 1,300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.

This would imply a 50 % decoupling which is obviously an absolute minimum considering that half of the blast is directed upward and does not push into the ground.

NATURE — Yield estimation of the 2020 Beirut explosion using open access waveform and remote sensing data (July 8 2021)

We apply an additional method to estimate the yield of the explosion from seismic data. This approach relies on the relation of teleseismic body wave magnitude mb measurements to the seismic yield of an explosion [“Yield estimation from seismic data” section (2)] and results in an estimate of 0.13 to 0.34 kt TNT for the explosion. These values have to be considered a lower bound estimate, as the relations are established for well-coupled underground nuclear explosions.

For a surface explosion only a small portion of the total energy couples into the subsurface as seismic energy and is subsequently considered in the mb measurements. For the estimation based on the body wave magnitude we further assume that the explosive conversion from chemical energy takes place simultaneously resulting in an instantaneous release of seismic energy.

The reader will notice that my initial estimate (0.2 kilotons of TNT) is right in the middle of the range published in the NATURE article.

And the authors point out correctly that only a small portion of the total energy couples into the subsurface as seismic energy.

This decoupling is at least 50% and possibly much higher (90%) as a quick analysis of the 2015 Tianjin explosions demonstrate.

Finally, in my post I had written:

“There are videos of the blast. If  the speed of the mushroom expansion from these videos can be estimated, the yield could be derived in an independent way. The depth of the crater could also be useful in determining the yield of the blast.”

That work has now been done. It will be interesting to do a meta-analysis of all the results obtained by various methods.

For now, I can conclude that the FBI analysis is dead wrong. Once again. This is a blatant case of science politicization. Stay tuned!

RELATED POST: Lockerbie — Why I ruled out the bomb theory [Technical Analysis of the Debris Lines]

PS — The FBI ‘forensic scientists’ of the infamous ‘explosive unit’ are complete morons. What does this story tell you about Pan Am 103?

END of UPDATE

“This is negligence from the ruling elite. An atomic bomb was there for years, and not a single leader or ruler did anything about it.”

Beirut resident

August 10 2020 — Shortly after 18:00 local time (15:00 GMT), the roof of the warehouse caught alight and there was a large initial explosion, followed by a series of smaller — fireworks-like sounding — blasts.

About 30 seconds later, there was a colossal explosion that sent a mushroom cloud into the air. The blast wave created a crater 120 meter wide and 43 meter deep.

The blast wave leveled surrounding buildings  and caused extensive damage all over Beirut.

Quick Analysis of the Main Blast

The main explosion was linked to about 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate equivalent to 1.1 kilotons of TNT.

The explosion was detected as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3 by the United States Geological Survey.

A 3.3 magnitude translates into a yield of about 0.2 kilotons of TNT.

This is about 5 times lower than expected but it may be explained by a very inefficient transmission of the shock waves into the ground.

As an expert from Yale University told Intel Today,

“Much of the blast was directed into the surrounding air, not into the solid ground, so I would expect a lower yield estimate. A 80% reduction in apparent yield seems reasonable.”

I may be able to find some information on the decoupling factor from similar previous tragedies such as the 2015 explosion in Tianjin, China.

Mushroom — There are videos of the blast. If  the speed of the mushroom expansion from these videos can be estimated, the yield could be derived in an independent way. The depth of the crater could also be useful in determining the yield of the blast.

What is up with the Missile Theory?

Although there is some uncertainty about the primary cause of this explosion, it is fairly safe to conclude that the main explosion was caused by the ignition of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate unsafely stored in this building for almost a decade.

Why would Lebanese president Michel Aoun suggest that a missile may have caused the tragedy?

Intel Today believes that this is actually a message addressed to French President Emmanuel Macron, who suggested that a transparent international inquiry is needed.

If Macron wants transparency about tragedies caused by a missile, the French President could immediately declassify the documents related to at least two major tragedies: Itavia Flight 870 (Ustica – June 27 1980) and the mysterious explosion of “La Maison des Têtes” (Toulon – February 15 1989).

Initially, the crash of Itavia Flight 870 was blamed on a terrorist bomb. However, on January 23 2013, Italy’s top criminal court ruled that there was “abundantly” clear evidence that the flight was brought down by a missile.

Documents from the archives of the Libyan secret service — passed on to Human Rights Watch after the fall of Tripoli — show that Flight 870 was downed by a French jet engaged in a dog fight with a Libyan MiG. France — and Belgium — have refused to collaborate to the investigation on the ground of National Security.

Officially, the tragedy of “La Maison des Têtes” in Toulon is blamed on a gas explosion.

The families of the victims have never accepted this idiotic explanation. Many experts believe that the building was destroyed by a missile fired accidentally by the USS Austin.

French military documents have been classified for 100 years under “SECRET DEFENSE”.

Lebanese president hints missile may be behind blast

REFERENCES

Beirut explosion: What we know so far — BBC

Beirut explosion: anger at officials grows after missed warnings — The Guardian

2020 Beirut explosions — Wikipedia

expert reaction to Beirut explosion — Science Media Center

What we know about the massive chemical explosion in Beirut — Ars Technica

China explosions: Tianjin blasts ‘on seismic scale’ — BBC

2015 Tianjin explosions — Wikipedia

Minor Scale — Wikipedia

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Beirut Explosion — Negligence or Missile? [Quick Analysis of the Main Blast]

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