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North’s nuclear test could trigger volcano eruption

Terrestrial stress could cause Mount Paektu to blow, study says

Feb 18,2016
A crater lake on top of Mount Paektu, which was formed after the volcano erupted in 1903. In a study released this week, a group of scientists claimed the volcano could erupt as a result of continued nuclear activity in North Korea. [JOONGANG PHOTO]
If a North Korean underground nuclear test were to produce an earthquake over a magnitude of 7, the explosion could trigger Mount Paektu, a volcano straddling the border with China, to erupt, according to a new study.

Scientists have grown increasingly concerned that the artificial earthquake that resulted from North Korea’s fourth nuclear test at the Punggye-ri nuclear site, located about 116 kilometers (72 miles) from Mount Paektu, could have directly or indirectly impacted volcanic activity, possibly leading to an eruption.

Mount Paektu, which at 2,744 meters (9,000 feet) is the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula, has not erupted since 1903.

The study is the first to find an exact link between North Korea’s nuclear test and the possibility of a volcanic eruption. The report, conducted by Hong Tae-kyung, a professor in the Department of Earth System Sciences at Yonsei University, and his colleagues, was published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Their research examines dynamic stress changes in Paektu’s magma chamber and how hypothetical nuclear explosions carried out by North Korea could induce an eruption.

The research team analyzed North Korea’s first three nuclear tests, conducted in 2006, 2009, and 2013, calculating seismic ground motion and dynamic stress changes. In the study, the team set earthquake magnitudes of 5.0 to 7.6 - the result of nuclear tests conducted by the Soviet Union and the United States, respectively.

“North Korea’s underground nuclear explosions with magnitudes of 5.0 to 7.6 may induce overpressure in the magma chamber by several tens to hundreds of kilopascals,” the study said.

Professor Hong said a magnitude-7.0 underground nuclear explosion by North Korea may produce peak ground accelerations and peak dynamic stress changes around the volcano, indicating Mount Paektu could erupt.

However, he added that North Korean nuclear tests lower than magnitude-7 were also dangerous.

North Korea’s nuclear development capabilities have improved since 2006, when it conducted its first nuclear test at the Punggye-ri nuclear site, which resulted in a magnitude-3.6 earthquake.

The second test carried out in 2009, recorded a magnitude-4.4 earthquake, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration, while the third test in 2013 had a magnitude of 4.8.

The regime claimed its latest nuclear test on Jan. 6 was a hydrogen bomb and violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Analysts from other neighboring countries including China and Japan have also warned about a possible eruption in a few years, citing that they have observed abnormal activity and that areas near the volcano have been secreting sulfur dioxide, a volcanic gas.

Temperatures in the nearby hot springs have also continued to rise.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]


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