Abstract

An accident at the Sierra Chemical Company Kean Canyon plant, 16 km east of Reno, Nevada, resulted in two explosions 3.52 sec apart that devastated the facility. An investigation into a possible cause for the accident required the determination of the chronological order of the explosions. We resolved the high-precision relative locations and chronology of the explosions using a cross-correlation method applied to both seismic and air waves. The difference in relative arrival times of air waves between the explosions indicated that the first explosion occurred at the northern site. We then determined two station centroid separations between explosions, which average about 73 m with uncertainties ranging from ± 17 to 41 m depending on the alignment of station pairs. We estimated a centroid separation of 80 m using P waves with a larger uncertainty of ± 340 m. We performed a grid search for an optimal separation and the azimuth by combining air-wave arrivals from three station pairs. The best solution for the relative location of the second explosion is 73.2 m S35°E from the first explosion. This estimate is well within the uncertainties of the survey by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). The CSB reported a separation of approximately 76.2 m S33°E. The spectral amplitudes of P waves are 3 to 4 times higher for the second explosion relative to the first explosion, but the air waves have similar spectral amplitudes. We suggest that this difference is due to the partitioning of energy between the ground and air caused by downward directivity at the southern explosion, and upward directivity at the northern explosion. This is consistent with the absence of a crater for the first explosion and a 1.8-m-deep crater for the second explosion.

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