Go to contents

Volcano on Mount Baekdu

Posted June. 21, 2010 13:07,   


The April 14 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland sent volcanic ash clouds flying on currents and blanketing European skies. For five days after the eruption, 313 airports were shut down and 82,000 flights were canceled, causing a major disruption in air transportation. The online edition of the U.S. diplomatic journal Foreign Policy has named Merapi in Indonesia, Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yellowstone in the U.S., Santa Maria in Guatemala, and Avachinsky in Russia as volcanoes “ready to blow.”

Experts say Mount Baekdu in North Korea, which is classified as a dormant volcano, will see a major eruption in four to five years. This news spread like mythical rumors among Chinese volcanologists and was raised for discussion for the first time at a seminar hosted by the (South) Korea Meteorological Administration Wednesday. At the seminar “Volcanic Crisis on Mount Baekdu and Response,” earth science professor Yoon Seong-hyo of Busan National University said seismic activity on Mount Baekdu has surged to 240 times per month. He said the topography of the areas surrounding the mountain is rising, while trees are dying due to volcanic gas. These signs all herald volcanic activity.

The volcano in Iceland had a volcanic explosivity index of four, and the volcanic ash was just 0.11 cubic kilometers. Nevertheless, it brought the European aviation network to a standstill and caused massive damage to the world economy. According to scholars, when the Mount Baekdu volcano had a massive eruption in the mid-10th century, the volume of ash was 100 cubic kilometers and the volcanic explosivity index was 7.4. The eruption was reportedly one of the largest in human history. Given the magnitude of damage caused by the Iceland volcano, which generated ash clouds 1/1000th the volume of Mount Baekdu’s in the 10th century, it is difficult to even imagine the scale of damage that an eruption of the Mount Baekdu volcano could inflict.

A volcanic eruption can shift the flow of human civilization. Examples include Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii; Kikai Caldera, which destroyed the Neolithic civilization in Japan; and Laki in Iceland, which caused starvation that triggered the French Revolution when it erupted between 1783 and 1784. One academic theory suggests that the massive eruption of the Mount Baekdu volcano led to the collapse of the ancient Korean kingdom of Balhae. Amid mounting fears among the general public, the weather agency in Seoul has started preparation at the national level. Since Mount Baekdu is not under the country’s sovereignty, South Korea could face limits in its capacity to predict volcanic activity on the Korean Peninsula’s tallest mountain. People should not panic despite increased fears over a natural disaster, however, a phenomenon humans can do little about.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)