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North’s analysts worry about Paektu eruption

Geologists from U.K. also see abnormal trends on volcano

June 07,2019
Mount Paektu’s Chonji is a classic caldera lake created as water filled the crater on top of the volcano after an eruption in A.D. 946. [JOONGANG PHOTO]
Concerns are mounting over the possible eruption of Mount Paektu, the tallest mountain in North Korea and the Korean Peninsula.

“From 2016 to 2018, around Mount Paektu, a total of 10 earthquakes have taken place and the sensitivity under [the surrounding area of] the mountain is increasing,” said Kim Hyok, a section chief at Pyongyang International Information Center of New Technology and Economy at the fourth UK-Korea Research Conference on May 29 in Milton Keynes, Britain.

The conference was organized by multiple organizations, including Institute for Basic Science, the Korean Academy of Science and Technology and the Royal Society.

At the conference, geologists from North Korea and Britain expressed concerns over abnormal trends on Mount Paektu.

It was unprecedented for a North Korean scientist to announce an analysis of Mount Paektu in person.

Kim went on to say that the North is closely recording the change of density, gravity and magnetic field under the ground. He explained how the current situation is serious by mentioning Mount Paektu’s eruption that happened in A.D. 946. At that time, the volcanic ash traveled all the way to Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan, and was piled up as thick as 5 centimeters (2 inches).

North Korea, which felt a sense of danger over the potential eruption of Mount Paektu, was strengthening cooperation with Britain’s scientific community in related fields.

An official from Britain who started cooperative research with North Korea mentioned that, in 2015, the North provided a plethora of observational data related to Mount Paektu.

The official said they acquired data that North Korea had been assembling for decades.

British scientists were also concerned about a possible volcanic eruption on Mount Paektu.

Since 2006, earthquakes near Mount Paektu have suddenly become less frequent and the reason for this is unclear, according to James Hammond, a senior lecturer in geophysics at Birkbeck, University of London. It means that from 2002 to 2005 a total of 3,000 earthquakes occurred around Mount Paektu, but the frequency suddenly dropped, increasing analyst’s concerns.

“One of the signs before a volcano explodes is that earthquakes take place frequently then are reduced afterwards, and this phenomenon keeps on repeating,” said Yun Sung-hyo, a professor of earth science education at Pusan National University. “Mount Paektu is almost like the calm before the storm right now.“

The scientific community in Britain also warned about the danger that lies at Mount Paektu’s top, a caldera lake known as Chonji.

If Mount Paektu erupts, hot volcanic ash or magma will make contact with the water in Chonji, and the water vapor could contribute to a large explosion.

Amy Donovan, a geographer at Cambridge University, emphasized that there was a similar case in New Zealand in 1995 and Iceland in 2010.

If Mount Paektu explodes, there could be a flood caused by the water from Chonji, according to British researchers.

BY HEO JEONG-WON [kim.heyu@joongang.co.kr]


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