Beirut In The Dark: Research In Collaboration With Hokkaido University

Beirut In The Dark: Research In Collaboration With Hokkaido University

The August 2020 explosion in Lebanon resulted in casualties, injuries, and a significant number of internally displaced persons. The blast occurred during an economically and politically tough time in the country. For detailed research on the causes and aftermath of the Lebanon explosion NIT Rourkela under the leadership of Prof. Bhaskar Kundu (HOD, Department of Earth And Atmospheric Sciences), collaborated with the Hokkaido University, Japan and published in Scientific Report in February 2021, named "2020 Beirut Explosion - "Seen Through The Eyes of GPS" about the Lebanon explosion.

The socio-economic backbone of the city, during the COVID19 pandemic, became paralyzed by a deadly explosion on August 4, 2020, at a warehouse in the port, where more than 2,750 tons of Ammonium nitrate was stored without proper safety measures. Videos of the blast posted on social media showed smoke billowing from the warehouse on the waterfront before a massive explosion produced a dome-shaped cloud that engulfed large parts of central Beirut! The force of the blast did tremendous damage to the surrounding neighbourhoods and nearby buildings. The explosion occurred at the Beirut port shortly after 6 PM local time and caused around 200 deaths and 6,500+ injuries. This is considered one of the most powerful non-nuclear anthropogenic explosions in human history!

(Click here for the documentary video)

This gave an opportunity to the researchers to investigate the damages caused to the atmosphere and compare it with the properties of past cases of the explosion. The array of GPS networks with the help of satellites provides insights into the effects on the atmosphere as well as surface activities due to the explosion. This enabled the researchers to observe ionosphere total electron content (TEC). The charged particles gain energy from the UV rays, and the density shows the response to both space and surface activities.

(Click here for the published report)

The project was collaborative research of NIT Rourkela and Hokkaido University Japan. Along with Prof. B. Kundu and Prof. K. Heki, a PhD student from Hokkaido University, Ai Matsushita and one of NIT Rourkela's PhD students, Batakrushna Senapati, have contributed to the research. This work has been published in Scientific Report under Nature’s Umbrella and has also attracted several Japanese newspapers under media coverage. 

Prof. Bhaskar Kundu had the following to say about the inspiration behind the collaboration,

This project was different from the standard collaborative projects; it was not a pre-planned project. The Beirut explosion is one of the most powerful anthropogenic non-nuclear explosions in human history; it can be easily captured by satellite observation. The project's principal figure is Prof. Kosuke Heki; he is called the father of Geodesy in Japan and Southeast Asia. After two days of the unfortunate event, I contacted him, and initially, Prof Kosuke Heki was not convinced of the signal I had got, but then I had him convinced by sending him all the analysis. We had a Zoom call and divided the tasks at hand between ourselves, and that's how we collaborated.

When asked about the significant challenges encountered while working on the project, Prof. Bhaskar Kundu said,

Nowadays, only presenting the data is not enough. For this project, we had to capture and simulate the event. We faced challenges in the modelling of these waves. However, it got easy since Prof K. Heki, a pioneer worker in this field, has helped us a lot in the simulating and modelling part. We together made this model.

Nowadays, research projects need an improved and developed system of tools and equipment. For projects like this, the institute’s infrastructures and facilities play a major role. In this regard, Prof. B. Kundu added,

We collected the Geodetic data from the available archives where people provide such datasets in the public domain. So, we tried to analyse the public domain data. The project didn’t require a very rigorous way of data processing. The kind of facility and infrastructure available at NIT Rourkela and our department were adequate to pursue this research work.

In this research, the team reports an N-shaped pulse, observed as changes in ionospheric total electron content using continuous GNSS stations in Israel and Palestine. The team also succeeded in reproducing the observed disturbances assuming acoustic waves propagating upward and their interaction with geomagnetic fields.

One cannot turn back time and change the past, but efforts put in the present can make the future safe and beautiful. The research findings would undoubtedly benefit the scientific community, and hopefully, it can help to avert any such disasters in the future.

Team Monday Morning hopes more such benefiting collaborations to be carried out in the future so that the students can be exposed to the department's innumerable prospects. We congratulate the dedicated research team and wish them good luck in all their future endeavours.

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