The submarine cable industry has seen its share of strange happenings over the years, but an event last month at a beach in Rhode Island has to rank near the top.

On July 11, an explosion occurred at the Salty Brine State Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island, that was powerful enough to throw one beachgoer 10 feet into the air and suffer broken bones.  The next two weeks saw an investigation that sounded like a detective story, except that the resolution was considered by most to be anti-climactic.  We in the submarine cable industry may disagree. 

While the immediate assumption was an explosive device or fireworks (it was only a week after the Fourth of July), these causes were quickly ruled out, as were possibilities such as gas pipelines or seismic events.

At this point, with investigators running out of ideas, experts from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School Of Oceanography (URI GSO) were brought in, led by Dr. Arthur Spivack, an oceanographer with expertise in geo-chemistry. 

The investigators’ only clue was an unusually high concentration of hydrogen gas in the sand near the explosion.  As their attention turned to where the gas could be coming from, they located a cable buried under the sand. 

The cable in question ran from a USCG station, across the beach, and then undersea to the end of a stone jetty, were it once powered a navigational beacon.  When power for the beacon was shifted to solar in 2007, the cable was “de-energized,” but remained under the sand at the beach.

After his investigation, Dr. Spivak reported that it was very likely the incident was caused by the combustion of a build-up of hydrogen gas in the beach sand, due to the corrosion of the cable.

The remains of the cable have been removed and the injured person is recovering.  The beach has been declared safe and re-opened to the public.  The governor of Rhode Island recognized the contribution of the URI GSO and thanked them for them efforts. 

Recently, the International Cable Protection Committee released a study proving as myth the popular media’s obsession with sharks eating submarine cables.  The beach explosion proves that reality sometimes can be even more bizarre than the media’s imagination.