North Korea: Into the crater

Lake Chon situated at the summit of Mount Paektu, North Korea Lake Chon situated at the summit of Mount Paektu, North Korea James Hammond
15 Jun
2016
Mount Paektu is responsible for one of the largest eruptions in recorded history. The first ever international study of the volcano is now underway

For the first time, an international study has taken place on the North Korean side of Mount Paektu, a volcano which straddles the border with China. Previously there has been relatively little information about the volcano available to the international community, despite it being responsible for one of the world’s largest recorded eruptions, in 946 AD, which formed the 4km-wide Lake Chon at the volcano’s summit. It is a symbolic icon among North Koreans, featuring in the national emblem and as a backdrop for television broadcasts. Yet only following a 2011 invitation from within the closed nation have Western volcanologists been able to study it, and what has been termed the ‘millennium eruption’, more closely.

One question that really irks me is why the volcano is even there! We don’t know that

‘Even on the Chinese side there are fundamental questions that still haven’t been answered,’ explains James Hammond, a lecturer in geophysics in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck, University of London, and part of the team that has been flying in and out of Pyongyang. ‘We don’t know the history of the volcano very well. We know about this one eruption, but there have obviously been many more we don’t know about in any great detail. Most of the deposits that came out are in Korea. You can take them back to the lab, and understand how much gas was emitted during the eruption, what the conditions of the volcano were just before it erupted, and the timeline of events a thousand years ago. We haven’t had the chance to look beneath the volcano on the Korean side, so it’s quite exciting to be able to do that.’

Using data from six seismic imaging stations on the North Korean side of the border, the study has pointed to a region of molten rock that may exist ‘throughout a significant portion of the crust below the volcano’, which could explain the significant volcanic gas emissions and earthquake activity between 2002 and 2005. The findings were achieved using the ‘receiver function’ method, which measures energy from distant quakes. Identifying different types of seismic waves and interactions between them reveals information about volcanic crust thickness and rock composition.

‘This is just the start,’ insists Hammond. ‘One question that really irks me is why the volcano is even there! We don’t know that. Now that the collaboration is up and running, we’re looking to do more ambitious projects.’

This was published in the June 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

Analysis into a killer whale found dead off the shores…

Geophoto

For the past ten years, the Chartered Institution of Water…

Geophoto

Less than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, so it…

Oceans

Zafer Kizilkaya has been awarded the 2017 Whitley Gold Award…

Wildlife

John Kahekwa is the founder and general manager of the…

Polar

Recent observations of Arctic flora and fauna indicate major changes…

Oceans

A massive die-off of Australian mangrove forests is being attributed…

Energy

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Climate

Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…

Wildlife

The continuing adventures of Aaron Gekoski as he joins the…

Geophoto

What do Ethiopia’s ‘church forests’, the incipient HS2 high-speed rail…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues working alongside the Wildlife Rescue Unit

Geophoto

Today, the camera is regarded as an essential smartphone feature.…

Oceans

An innovative new theory hopes to save millions of lives…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues his personal adventure into the wilds of…

Wildlife

Simple tracking devices have enabled conservationists to amass big data,…

Climate

In a new report, researchers have calculated the global emissions…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The latest episode sees ‘Bertie’ enlisting in wildlife rescue boot…

Energy

Icelandic engineers are attempting to harness the powerful geothermal energy…