Feb 20, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

North Korean Nuclear Tests Could Trigger Volcano Eruption

While world leaders and wannabe US leaders continue to squabble over whether North Korea recently tested a nuclear device, seismologists voiced their concerns that the location of the real, alleged or future underground tests is very near to Mount Paekdu (Baekdu), an active volcano with a deadly history. Can a nuclear explosion trigger an eruption there?

An underground nuclear explosion test near an active volcano constitutes a direct threat to the volcano. This study examined the dynamic stress changes of the magma chamber of Baekdusan [Changbaishan] that can be induced by hypothetical North Korean nuclear explosions.

That’s a big “Oh yeah!” from researchers led by seismology professor Hong Tae-kyung of Yonsei University, whose study, published in Nature, modeled the effects of underground nuclear tests and found that explosions with magnitudes of between 5 and 7.6 could induce overpressure in the magma chamber and trigger an eruption. The North Korean explosion recorded in January had a magnitude of 5.1.

Should North Koreans be more worried about an eruption than an explosion? Should China? Mount Paekdu is 72 miles from the Punggye-ri grounds where it appears the last underground test took place. The volcano is on the border between North Korea and China. The last major eruption of the 9,000 ft. volcano occurred in 1903 but the one every talks about is the “Millenium eruption” of 946 AD. Multiple ancient history books mention it with stories like the explosion being heard 450 km away in the capital where the emperor had an apocalyptic panic attack and pardoned all convicts in the prisons. Seismologists consider it to be one of the largest eruptions in the past 2000 years.

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Locations of volcano, nuclear test area, China, North and South Korea

Is this another good reason to stop further nuclear tests (real, secret, alleged or otherwise) in North Korea? Possibly, Mount Paekdu could erupt on its own without any help from a nuke. A nuclear-induced eruption might not be any bigger than a natural one. A nuclear bomb dropped directly on a volcano or detonated deep inside of it could have its force dissipated by the heat of the magma (Sorry, Crack in the Earth fans).

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Ash plume from the Eyjafjoell eruption in Iceland in 2010

The real danger is if there was radioactive fallout from the test that mixed with the volcanic ash and was carried around the world. Professor Hong says the Millennium eruption dumped a 2 inch layer of ash on parts of northern Japan, more than 650 miles away.

Are all of these good reasons to stop nuclear tests by North Korea, especially near Mount Paekdu? Oh yeah!

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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