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Major eruption of Mt. Baekdu ‘possible’

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posted on Jun, 18 2010 @ 05:46 AM

The government is paying attention to the possibility of a major eruption of Mt. Baekdu, the 2,744-meter dormant volcano on the border between North Korea and China, which experts here and in China claim has shown signs of becoming active.

“Comprehensive countermeasures will be drawn up this year,” a high-ranking official at the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) told The Korea Times, Friday. “To that end, we will soon convene a meeting of volcano experts and officials at related ministries. Plus, we will study volcanoes in China and Japan to enhance our knowledge of the issue.”

The official, who declined to be named, added, “The plan will soon be reported to the President.”

This is the first time that the KMA has commented on dealing with a possible volcanic eruption of the tallest mountain on the Korean peninsula that could devastate the ailing North Korean economy and have a great impact on South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

In 2008, the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Environment held discussions on the issue, but no concrete countermeasures were established, officials said.

Geologist Yoon Sung-hyo at Pusan National University strongly believes that an eruption is possible.

“Baekdu could erupt anytime soon,” said Yoon who has monitored the mountain for changes. “A variety of indicators are backing this scenario. The thing we should try to predict is when. It's clear it's imminent.”

The geologist speculated that an eruption could take place in a couple of years.

According to historical records, major activity on Baekdu in the 940s created a caldera on its peak, whose circumference is nearly 14 kilometers with an average depth of 213 meters and a maximum of 384 meters. Volcanic ash from this eruption has been found as far away as the southern part of Hokkaido, Japan, according.

Small-scale eruptions were recorded in 1413, 1597, 1668 and 1702 _ the last activity was recorded in 1903.

The mountain has stayed inactive since then, leaving it categorized by scientists as dormant. The Chinese government developed the mountain and surrounding areas as a tourist destination drawing tens of thousands of visitors from around the world each year _ many of them from South Korea.

Yet, “unusual signs,” including minor trembling among others, began to emerge around June 2002 and their frequency quakes has notably increased since a 7.3-magnitude earthquake rattled the area around the mountain, according to geologists..

Among other indicators backing the scenario of a future eruption is the height of Baekdu, which has grown nearly 10 centimeters since 2002. Experts say an expanding magma pool, a precondition for an eruption, is gradually pushing up the height of the mountain as well as the temperature on the surface.

On Oct. 1, 2006, a Russian satellite found the surface temperature of the mountain notably higher than before. The finding came just days after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in its northern territory, which could have been a catalyst reactivating magma flows, according to analysts.


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