This Sci-Fi Sound­ing Dan­ger is Very Real:

Science Illustrated - - CONTENTS -

No it’s not a new block­buster dis­as­ter movie, it’s a real risk. North Korea’s nu­clear tests could cause a mas­sive eruption. So what would that mean?

The Paektu su­per­vol­cano could bury half of Asia in ash, and North Korean nu­clear tests threaten to wake the vol­cano from its sleep. Two Bri­tish ge­ol­o­gists have been granted ex­tra­or­di­nary per­mis­sion to ob­serve Paektu, and they are wor­ried.

Hi James, this is Clive. Have you ever thought about go­ing to North Korea for a brief visit?”

The call is made in 2011, and one week later, two Bri­tish ge­ol­o­gists, James Ham­mond and Clive Op­pen­heimer, are in one of the world’s most un­ap­proach­able coun­tries – af­ter an al­most un­prece­dented in­vi­ta­tion from the Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment it­self. The un­der­ground has be­gun to stir, threat­en­ing North Korea as a na­tion.

Due to the short run-up, Ham­mond and Op­pen­heimer do not have much time to think about what they are do­ing, but when Ham­mond steps out of the plane in Py­ongyang, he is both cu­ri­ous and anx­ious.

The two ge­ol­o­gists' stay in the North Korean cap­i­tal is a short one. Im­me­di­ately upon ar­rival, they join about 30 North Korean geo­physi­cists, seis­mol­o­gists, and vol­ca­nol­o­gists to fly north to the im­pres­sive moun­tain range of Chang­bai, which makes up the bor­der be­tween North Korea and China. It is also the lo­ca­tion of the vol­cano of Mount Paektu.

If you do not know Mount Paektu, you are not the only one. The vol­cano is prob­a­bly the one of the 25-30 sleeping su­per­vol­ca­noes in the world about which we know the least. Su­per­vol­ca­noes are vol­ca­noes that have the po­ten­tial to eject more than 1,000 km3 of magma, caus­ing an ash cloud to rise 25 km into the air.

Mount Paektu has not pro­duced a se­vere eruption since 946 AD, and the his­toric sources are very lim­ited. How­ever, 2,744-m-high Mount Paektu makes most other vol­ca­noes seem like, well, fizzers. The North Korean vol­cano is a mon­ster with suf­fi­cient ex­plo­sive force to blan­ket half of Asia in ash and trig­ger a cli­mate dis­as­ter that could cause a se­vere win­ter last­ing sev­eral years across the whole of the North­ern Hemi­sphere.

James Ham­mond and Clive Op­pen­heimer are the first West­ern geo­science re­searchers to visit Mount Paektu, which rises bar­ren and scarred on the hori­zon.

Once on the vol­cano, the two sci­en­tists in­spect the scarce and out­dated sci­en­tific equip­ment, which North Korea has al­ready erected, and learn the ex­tent of the erup­tions, the vol­cano could pro­duce.

Sub­se­quently, a long dis­cus­sion fol­lows be­tween the West­ern sci­en­tists and their North Korean col­leagues con­cern­ing fu­ture co­op­er­a­tion. When Ham­mond and Op­pen­heimer go home af­ter one week, they have a wellde­fined mis­sion. They are go­ing to find time and money for ex­plor­ing North Korea’s se­cret su­per­vol­cano to un­der­stand Mount Paektu’s full "po­ten­tial".

Ash rained down over Ja­pan and Green­land

In 2013, Ham­mond and Op­pen­heimer re­turn to re­search all the ev­i­dence of the eruption in 946 AD, they can get close to along with their Korean col­leagues. They study the ex­tent and thick­ness of ash and lava, tak­ing geo­chem­i­cal sam­ples to de­ter­mine the make-up of the magma and how it es­caped the vol­cano.

Ac­cord­ing to Clive Op­pen­heimer, Mount Paektu's eruption in 946 was like "a mil­lion nu­clear bombs

The bor­der be­tween China and North Korea winds across Mount Paektu. The top of the crater and Heaven Lake are lo­cated on the North Korean side.

James Ham­mond and North Korean ge­ol­o­gists are ready to in­stall seis­mome­ters on Mount Paektu.

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