South Korean news agency Yonhap reported May 24 that Hiromitsu Taniguchi, a prominent Japanese volcanologist, predicts that Mount Paektu, a huge volcano on the border between North Korea and China, will erupt explosively as a consequence of the 2011 Tohuku earthquake.
Speaking with Yonhap, Taniguchi estimated that an eruption of Paektu might reach rating 4 or 5 on the Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI). Scientists rate the explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens in the US in 1980 as a 5 on the VEI. Yonhap reports that Taniguchi told Japanese media that the eruption was 99 percent certain in the next twentyyears.
Yonhap adds that a South Korean scientist, Lee Youn-Soo of the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, observed that too little data is available to predict when an eruption will occur. North Korean authorities, on the other hand, may have more data about the effect of the 2011 Tohuku earthquake on Mount Paektu. Six days after the Tohuku quake, Pyongyang proposed talks with South Korea on joint study of the volcanic activity of Mount Paektu..
Taniguchi’s web page describes him as a Professor in the Division of Geochemistry at Japan’s Tohuku University. Tohuku Unversity is located in Sendai, the city closest to the epicenter of Japan’s great 2011 temblor. According to the web page, the dynamics of the explosive volcanism is a theme of his research.
Wikipedia gives plenty of background information on the mountain. Mount Paektu, at 9003 feet the highest peak of the Korean peninsula, has great cultural and historical significance for Koreans. According to legend, Hwanung, the son of the Lord of Heaven, descended to earth on the mountain. He hada son, Dangun Wanggeom, with a woman who was formerly a bear. Dangun Wanggeom grew up to found the first Korean kingdom. Later Korean dynasties considered the mountain sacred.
North Korean authorities, perhaps wishing to create their own parallel mythic tradition, assert that Kim Sung-Il formed a resistance movement on the mountain against the Japanese occupation. According to this tradition, unsubstantiated by records outside North Korea, Kim Jong-Il was born in the forests around the mountain.
A major eruption about 1000 CE gave Mount Paektu its current shape. According to Wikipedia, ash from that eruption reached the northern Japanese island Hokkaido. The volcano last erupted in 1903. The pressure of magma beneath Mount Paektu raises the volcano 3 mm per year.
China has developed its side of the mountain commercially. Tourists go there to see beautiful Heaven Lake in the caldera (crater) of the volcano.
Further Reading and Sources
AFP. “S. Korea and North agree volcano research talks." Retrieved 26 May 2012.
Baekdu Mountain. Wikipedia. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
Dangun. Wikipedia. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
Yonhap. “Japanese expert forecasts major volcanic eruptions in N. Korea.” Retrieved 26 May 2012.
Hiromitsu Taniguchi. Staff, Center for Northeast Asian Studies. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
This article is a revision of an article of the same name that appeared on Triond's Socyberty website on May 26, 2012. Links to most of the references are live on that site: http://socyberty.com/society/scientist-predicts-n-korea-explosion/.