Sandia team researches cause of Sago Mine disaster

Sandia team researches cause of Sago Mine disaster

A team of researchers from Sandia National Laboratories recently visited the Sago Mine in West Virginia to determine if lightning might have caused the mine’s Jan 2, 2005 explosion. Twenty-nine miners were underground when the explosion occurred, 12 of whom were killed due to the force of the blast.

The group spent 10 days in November analyzing the possibility that electric current caused by a lightning strike emitted effects deep into the coal mine, resulting in the explosion. The findings of the study could have wide-ranging ramifications on the nation’s mining industry, according to Larry Schneider, senior manager of Sandia’s Electromagnetic, Stockpile Support and Work for Others Department.

“Current from a surface lightning strike can generate electromagnetic fields that can readily propagate through the earth, as opposed to current being driven into conductors entering a mine such as metal rails or power lines,” Schneider said in a news release. “The correlation between our field measurements and analytical models is quite impressive. Significant energy can be transmitted deep into the mine without physical conductors being present on or near the surface. This has profound implications.”

The Sandia team included Matt Higgins, Dawna Charley and Leonard Martinez. The study was made due to a request from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is charged with writing the report on possible causes for the deadly explosion. The data and analysis from Sandia’s research will be included in the report.

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