Gov’t takes eruption of Mt. Baekdu seriously

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Gov’t takes eruption of Mt. Baekdu seriously

The divine Mount Baekdu, considered the birthplace of the Korean race, hasn’t erupted since 1903.

But one Korean geologist thinks the live volcano is showing signs of erupting, and the government is considering preparing for the worst.

The Ministry of Unification said yesterday it is contemplating about how to come up with contingency plans in case of an eruption.

“We are thinking of forming a taskforce because the possibility of an eruption is being brought up from various sectors,” said a Unification Ministry official. If the volcano, which straddles the North Korean-Chinese border, blows, it could be a doozy.

According to an economic report issued on Oct. 29 by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, a winter-time eruption of Mount Baekdu could produce enough volcanic ash to affect airplane flights over South Korea, affecting foreign trade. Colder temperatures would also result in crop failures and higher produce prices.

The National Intelligence Service said during an auditing session at the National Assembly Oct. 28 that there is a need for cooperation between the two Koreas on the possibility of a Mount Baekdu eruption.

Professor Yoon Sung-hyo, a geologist at Pusan National University who, for months, has been saying an eruption is near, said a Mount Baekdu eruption would likely be bigger that the Eyjafjallajokull blast in Iceland earlier this year.

Yoon said that the mountain has been steadily gaining in height due to pressure from magma within, and a 6.9 magnitude earthquake along the North Korea-Russia border in February might have been the result of the magma buildup. He also says bubbles have been spotted in Heaven Lake - a lake in the crater on the mountain’s top.

Other experts say that Yoon’s information is not 100 percent accurate and that better research is only possible with North Korea’s cooperation.

“There can be problems in trusting Professor Yoon’s data,” said Professor Hong Tae-kyung at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Hong said the data comes from an observatory based in China, and that there are many scientists in South Korea, including himself, who wish to carry out research on the volcano, but can’t because the mountain is on the other side of the military demarcation line.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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