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Experts: N. Korea's nuclear test may trigger volcanic eruption

All Headlines 19:00 February 17, 2016

SEOUL, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- A team of South Korean experts warned Wednesday that North Korean nuclear tests may trigger a volcanic eruption of Mount Baekdu, a North Korean mountain situated close to the test site.

Hong Tae-kyung, a professor of seismology at Seoul's Yonsei University, said in a paper published in the Scientific Reports that strong ground motion can induce large dynamic stress changes. This may disturb the magma chamber of a volcano, thus accelerating volcanic activity.

"An underground nuclear explosion test near an active volcano constitutes a direct threat to the volcano," Hong said in a paper that was co-authored by three other experts, including Choi Eun-seo of the Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis.

Mount Baekdu, an active intraplate stratovolcano, is located 116 kilometers away from a North Korean test site. It is close enough to be potentially affected by a moderate-sized or large seismic event, they said.

The highest peak on the Korean Peninsula has been dormant since its last eruption in 1903.

North Korea has carried out four underground nuclear tests at the site in 2006, 2009, 2013 and in January, creating artificial earthquakes.

The expert said volcanic eruptions were triggered by earthquakes, citing various studies. They also said there is growing anxiety whether a future, large nuclear explosion at the North Korean test site could disturb the magma chamber and cause a volcanic eruption.

The experts said that underground nuclear explosions with magnitudes of 5.0-7.6 could cause overpressure in the magma chamber of several tens to hundreds of kilopascals.

They said dynamic stress changes induced by transient seismic waves can then over-pressurize the magma and trigger volcanic eruption, noting that the stress pressure change plays a crucial role in a volcanic eruption.

"North Korean nuclear explosions are expected to produce pressure changes of tens to hundreds of kilopascals, causing concern over the possible triggering of a volcanic eruption," the experts said in the paper published in the sister journal to Nature.

In 2011, experts of the two Koreas held talks on potential volcanic activity on Mount Baekdu at the North's request, following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Still, the two sides have since failed to hold further talks or conduct an on-site survey of the mountain.

The mountain holds significance for both South and North Korea. Pyongyang claims it as the birthplace of its former leader, Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader Kim Jong-un. The 2,750-meter-high peak is mentioned in the national anthem of South Korea.


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