Corroded abandoned cable causes underground explosion

The blast on a Rhode Island beach has been traced to an abandoned cable previously used by the Coast Guard.

Jul 27th, 2015
Photo credit: Rhode Island Public Radio. Investigators dig up an abandoned cable on Salty Brine Beach in Rhode Island, searching for the cause of an underground explosion. Research determined that the corroded cable indeed led to the explosion because of high hydrogen levels beneath the sand.
Photo credit: Rhode Island Public Radio. Investigators dig up an abandoned cable on Salty Brine Beach in Rhode Island, searching for the cause of an underground explosion. Research determined that the corroded cable indeed led to the explosion because of high hydrogen levels beneath the sand.

Researchers have determined the cause of a mysterious underground explosion at a Rhode Island beach was hydrogen combustion caused by corrosion from an abandoned cable. The copper cable had been used by the United States Coast Guard and was abandoned beneath Salty Brine Beach in Rhode Island. On July 11 beachgoers were startled and one suffered broken ribs when the explosion occurred beneath the sandy surface.

On Friday, July 24, CBS News reported that the explosion “was very likely caused by the combustion of hydrogen gas built up because of a corroded copper cable under the sand … scientists at the University of Rhode Island pinpointed the cause to a hydrogen blast. An abandoned copper cable that was previously used by the U.S. Coast Guard ran under the sand … scientists took core samples of the beach where the incident occurred and the sand at the site of the incident had unusually high levels of hydrogen.”

While the investigation was going on, Rhode Island Public Radio’s Ambar Espinoza reported “The U.S. Coast Guard worked with state and other federal investigators to remove a disconnected cable under the beach that used to power a navigational light on the jetty.” The photo on this page is property of Rhode Island Public Radio.

Researchers from the University of Rhode Island conducted much of the geological research during the investigation. In CBS News’ reporting, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit commented, “I’m grateful to the extraordinary scientists at URI, especially the team from the Graduate School of Oceanography, whose hard work led to this explanation.”

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