Some things surpass national borders, such as Mount Paektu, which straddles the border between North Korea and China.
Known for one of the most violent eruptions in human history in 946 AD, the volcano called Changbaishan in China recently started rumbling again. The possibility that the mountain might erupt again has generated an unprecedented international scientific collaboration.
For the very first time, a team of North Korean, Chinese, and British scientists was allowed to study the North Korean side of the volcano to understand better what makes the rocky beast tremble.
The never-before-studied geology beneath the North Korean side of the Mount Paektu was described in a jointly published paper in the journal Science Advances.
According to co-author James Hammond, a seismologist at Birkbeck College, University of London, the volcano cannot be understood if all of its sides are not studied. This is the first all-around insight scientists got of the mountain, creating a more inclusive picture of what goes on beneath the volcano.
The “Millennium Eruption” from 946 AD had earned its name by flinging debris and hot rocks across hundreds of miles. Some volcanic ash even reached Japan.
The explosion was a 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, only one unit under the official rating for a supervolcanic explosion, the kind that can cause worldwide devastation.
So when the 9,000-foot beast started trembling again between 2002 and 2005, it’s no wonder that North Korean officials invited volcanologists from China and Britain to the otherwise secluded country to learn more about Mount Paektu.
In 2011, British researchers travelled North Korea to meet with local researchers and take a good look at the volcano. That’s how the international – albeit slow and convoluted – collaboration was kicked off.
The team did not reconvene on the mountain until 2013, as the international process of obtaining the necessary licenses for importing equipment got in the way.
After a lot of negotiation, the team was allowed to bring over and install six seismometers in a line on the mountain. These devices stayed recorded motion deep in the Earth for two years, revealing the structures beneath the volcano.
It turns out the rocks inside the belly of Mt. Paektu aren’t completely solid. The seismometers painted a picture with some partial melt in the crust, but not enough to indicate an eruption just yet.
The existence of Mt. Paektu is very mysterious in itself; most volcanoes appear on the boundary of tectonic plates, but this one seems to have grown like an anomaly in the surrounding landscape.
Image Source: Popsci