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Mount Paektu Eruption Risk: North Korean Volcano Analyzed for First Time

Image: Mount Paektu Eruption Risk: North Korean Volcano Analyzed for First Time
In this Wednesday, June 18, 2014 photo, clouds float over the peak of Mt. Paektu in North Korea's Ryanggang province. More than a thousand years ago, a huge volcano straddling the border between North Korea and China was the site of one of the biggest eruptions in human history, blanketing eastern Asia in its ash. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

By    |   Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016 10:16 AM

North Korea's Mount Paektu volcano, responsible for one of the largest eruptions in recorded history, has finally been analyzed by modern scientists.

The volcano began rumbling in recent years, prompting the communist nation to invite western scientists to study the mountain starting in 2011, The Washington Post reported.

A team of researchers from North Korea, China, the United States, and Britain found a layer of partially melted rock under the surface, but no pools of magma above the surface.

“One of the challenges now is to go beyond simply saying there’s magma in the crust, discovering instead how it’s sitting, how much there is and what are the implications,” James Hammond, of Birkbeck, University of London, told NewScientist.com. “It’s only when it gets to a certain amount and a certain overpressure that it will erupt.”

The findings were reported Friday in the journal Science Advances.

The volcano’s storied eruption of 946 A.D. was the second-largest blast in history, and shot about 30 times more debris into the sky than Pompeii’s Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Only Mount Tambora’s 1815 eruption is reported to have been larger.

Mount Paektu is unusual in that it exists in the middle of a tectonic plate, rather than along the edges where plates collide, according to National Geographic.

Rumblings between 2002 and 2005 sparked curiosity in the mountain, and after “years of negotiations and bureaucratic wrangling,” the international team arrived in the hermit nation to study the volcano in 2013.

“I think the risk of a destructive eruption here is very real,” seismologist Stephen Grand of the University of Texas at Austin said, according to National Geographic. “The subsurface structure can help with predicting the future, although not with any definitiveness. One would need to follow how the current situation changes with time going forward.”

The volcano’s 946 eruption hurled debris as far as Japan, and scientists say a future eruption also could have effects ranging beyond North Korea. The volcano straddles the Chinese border, immediately threatening that country, and ash plumes could affect Japan too.

“It could certainly influence things like international trade routes and commercial airline traffic, at least,” said study co-author Kayla Iacovino of the U.S. Geological Survey.

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North Korea's Mount Paektu volcano, responsible for one of the largest eruptions in recorded history, has finally been analyzed by modern scientists.
mount paektu, eruption, risk, north korea
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2016-16-19
Tuesday, 19 Apr 2016 10:16 AM
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