Experts believe that Paektu Mountain, a holy volcano in North Korea, could be set to erupt at any moment.
The giant volcano sits on the border of North Korea and China, and has been dormant for years. However a thousand years ago Mount Paektu erupted in spectacular fashion.
Mysterious volcano had severe eruption 1,000 years ago
In the aftermath of that last eruption volcanic ash reached as far as the shores of Japan, hundreds of kilometers away. Mount Paektu, which is known as Changbai in China, is a mysterious volcano that people know very little about.
Paektu reaches 9,000 feet above sea level, and now it appears that another eruption is brewing. A team of international scientists are set to visit the volcano to carry out studies that will provide more detailed information.
One of the key areas for investigation is whether there is any magma inside Paetku. In an unprecedented international effort, scientists from China, North Korea and the West have placed six seismometers on the North Korean side of the volcano for the first time.
New paper uses data from North Korea
Their first paper, published Friday in Science Advances, describes the structures found underneath the North Korean side of the volcano.
“To understand a volcano, you need to look at it from all sides,” says study co-author James Hammond, a seismologist at Birkbeck College, University of London, in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “It’s the first glimpse of the volcano on the Korean side. It gives us a much better picture of what’s going on beneath the volcano.”
The previous eruption could be rated 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. Any eruption that reaches 8 or over is classed as a supervolcanic event that will cause devastation around the world. This is almost certainly what piqued the interest of scientists when they detected seismic activity at Paetku between 2002 and 2005.
The first international visit took place in 2011, when British scientists visited North Korea. It took until 2013 for the team to be able to visit the mountain due to international sanctions and difficulties importing the necessary equipment. One sensor could not be brought into the country because it can also be used to detect submarines.
Ongoing study could help predict future eruptions
After a long wait the team were able to install the seismometers, which collected data on the movements beneath the Earth’s surface over the course of two years. the devices revealed the structures beneath the volcano by recording how seismic waves passed through different types of rock.
The team found that the rocks underneath Mount Paektu are not completely solid. “We definitely see a significant region of partial melt in the crust directly beneath the volcano,” Dr. Hammond says.
However Hammond reminds us that this does not mean that an eruption is imminent. The scientists are still investigating how much magma there is in the volcano’s internal plumbing.
According to Hammond, Paetku is mysterious as it does not sit on the boundary of tectonic plates as most volcanoes do. “We don’t even know why the volcano is there,” said Hammond.
To North Koreans Paektu is the “sacred mountain of the revolution.” It is the highest point on the Korean peninsula.
The next task for the scientists is to look into the history of the volcano before the huge eruption around a thousand years ago. If the team can find out when and how previous eruptions occurred, they will be able to make better predictions about future eruptions.