Salty Brine Beach Explosion Baffles Scientists, Mysterious Cable May Be Blamed

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explosionOver the weekend, an explosion at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island, left an elderly woman in the hospital, and scientists are scratching their heads as to what could have caused it. Since Saturday, investigators have come up with nothing as the concrete origin in their search for a man-made or natural phenomenon that would have caused the peculiar blast. Though, a mysterious underground cable found in the sand may be the root cause.

“I don’t think it is anything geologic,” said University of Rhode Island glacial and coastal geology professor Jon Boothroyd.  “I am perplexed that they would move on so quickly to a natural cause,” he added.

Scientists came up with two theories for the origin of the mysterious blast, one of which is that a pocket of methane gas may have blown after pressure building up underground. Though, Boothroyd stated this type of geological event only happens in areas with permafrost, such as the Arctic Circle.

The second theory addresses fluctuating temperatures in the breakwater rocks, but it could not have caused an explosion of that magnitude, according to scientists. Stephen Porder, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University, explained the possibility of such a large explosion originating from a natural cause is, “theoretical possible, but highly improbable.”

Some believed that an earthquake could have caused the Salty Brine Beach explosion. However, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there was nothing recorded in the area at that time or in the hours and days leading up to the event. “I don’t see any seismic activity reported in Rhode Island that day,” said Julie Dutton, a geophysicist with the Earthquake Information Center.

One possible link to the odd incident could have a been a previously unreported exposed underground cable in the sand. On Thursday evening, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) stated that National Grid was inspecting the cable that was buried under the sand.

explosionAccording to David Graves, a spokesman for the National Grid, the underground cable follows along the lone of the rocks going into the water, but he is unsure if it carries electricity. The navigational lights near the breakwater are solar powered, he said. Interestingly, Graves insisted did not belong to them. Recent reports state the cable actually belongs to the United States Coast Guard. 

In yet another possible cause for the explosion, Rayna Maguire, assistant to the director of the Rhode Island DEM, stated in later reports that a power line on Salty Brine Beach was found cut. She stated, “it’s back to square one.”

State Fire Marshal John Chartier was quoted in a DEM news release Monday evening stating that, “members of the bomb squad screened the sand in the area using explosive-sniffing dogs and chemical swipes that detect explosive residue.” Though, nothing was found that led investigators to believe there was explosive material in the area.

The victim in the incident, 60-year-old Kathleen Danise, of Waterbury, Connecticut, was thrown several feet through the air out of her beach chair and onto a rock jetty during the explosion. She suffered two broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple contusions, according to her family. She was treated at a nearby hospital and released on Sunday. “She was like a human cannon,” said Laura Demartino, the sister of the victim. The cause of the mysterious Salty Brine Beach is still under investigation by local authorities.

By Alex Lemieux


Providence Journal: Nothing ruled out in Salty Brine beach blast

ABC News: Investigators Dig Up Electrical Line After Rhode Island Beach Blast Investigation into Rhode Island beach explosion ‘back at square one’

Twitter: @MikeLaCrosse, @Projo

Photo Courtesy of Christine Olson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Photo Courtesy of Christine Olson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License