North Korea's nuclear tests could trigger supervolcano eruption

North Korea is not a tranquil country by any measure. Situated on the very border of North Korea and China lies Mount Paektu (Baekdusan in Korean or Changbaishan in Chinese), an active volcano. At 2,744 meters it is the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula and of Northeast China. Both North and South Koreans consider the volcano and its caldera lake to be their countries' spiritual home.
A large crater lake, called Heaven Lake, lies in the caldera atop the mountain. The caldera was formed in 946 AD by a 'super-colossal' VEI-7 eruption, which erupted about 100–120 km3 of tephra. It was one of the largest and most violent eruptions in the last 5000 years and can be compared by the eruption of Tambora in 1815. It other words, this volcano can pack quite a powerful punch. Luckily, one might say, the volcano is dormant since its last eruption in 1903[1].

The North Korea’s latest nuclear test at its northerly nuclear test site Punggye-ri on September 3, 2017 was estimated at some 250 kilotons or nearly 17 times more powerful than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima. It was powerful enough to sink an area of roughly .34 square kilometers on the peak of a mountain above the tunnels where the test took place. After the test, scientists were worried that more underground explosions in the isolated country’s north could result in a deadly volcanic eruption from Mount Paektu[2]. Punggye-ri is located just 114 kilometers southeast of Mount Paektu.

A blast from such a super volcano could be catastrophic, with ash traveling thousands of miles and, depending on the direction of the wind, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of casualties.

So, North Korean's erratic leadership might strive for nuclear equilibrium with the USA, but it might unwittingly create their own Armageddon.

Update September 23, 2017: A (probably natural) earthquake of magnitude 3.4 rattled the North Korean area where they detonated their latest nuclear device. Is nature fighting back?

[1] Wei, H. et al. Three active volcanoes in China and their hazards in Journal of Asian Earth Sciences - 2003
[2] Hong et al: Prediction of ground motion and dynamic stress change in Baekdusan (Changbaishan) volcano caused by a North Korean nuclear explosion in Scientific Reports – 2017. See here.

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