Korea: Concerns loom over volcanic activity on Baekdu Mountain

In South Korea, public concerns are looming over the possible eruption of volcanic Baekdu Mountain, located on the border between North Korea and China. Experts predict that Baekdu’s damage could be ten to a hundred times greater than that caused by the April 2010 eruptions in Iceland. Volcanic ash from Baekdu could cause massive disruption to flights, hinder plant growth and interfere with the functioning of high-precision devices. The 1 billion tons of water on Baekdu’s summit could cause a flood in the already impoverished North, causing several thousands to flee.

Baekdu is the highest mountain both in South and North Korea, straddling the border with China. In light of recent topographical signs and satellite images reporting Baekdu’s increasingly frequent activity, experts have warned that the mountain's active core may erupt in the near future. Several South Korean experts have set the date as early as 2012 or 2014. Baekdu last erupted in 1903.

Image of Mt. Baekdu's summit, Owns by Bdpmas. Wikimedia Commons. GNU Free Documentation License.

Lastwish 7's apocalyptic posting about the future eruption has received over 200 comments, many of  which make valid points:

ID: 메르메츠: 우리나라로 날아오는 화산재는 매우 심각합니다. “아, 마스크 끼고 다니면 괜찮겠지.” 요정도 아니란 겁니다. 우선 우리나라는 반도체, 자동차로 살아먹는 나라입니다. 반도체, 자동차는 정말 장비들이 필요하고 조그마한 먼지 하나 들어가도 고장을 일으킬 수 있는 그런 장비들이죠.
ID zz8269: …폭발 시 지진 강도 7이상이면 서울 경기 인천 전남 등등 건물 균열 일어나고요…그것보다 화산재랑 유해가스(가) 제일 무서운 것임…살에 닿으면 병 걸려서 방독 마스크에 방면 복 완장하지 않으면 외출 못하고요 집에 창들에 테이프 붙여야 되고 전기 끊겨서 건전지 들어가는 라디오 준비해야 됨.
ID 예언자: 설마 마야인들이 예고했던 2012년 12월 21일 멸망의 날이 이 백두산 땜에 되는 건가!!!

ID Mermetz: When volcanic ashes fly over to us it is not a joking matter. It is much more serious than simply saying: ‘Well, I will be fine if I wore a mask’. Korea earns most of its revenue by selling semi-conductors and cars, both of which require high-precision devices [for their production]. These functioning of devices can easily be brought to a halt by a single speck of dust.
ID ss8296: When the magnitude of an earthquake following the eruption is higher than point 7, (minor) cracks will appear in the buildings located in Seoul, Kyunggi province, Incheon city, Jeonnam province, etc. The volcanic ash and poisonous gas are the most frightening fallouts from the eruption. When our bare skin is exposed to these things, we can get sick. (When eruption occurs) we cannot go out without a gas mask and we need to block chinks in window frame with tape and keep battery-powered radios in the event of possible blackouts.
ID: Yehunja (‘prophet’ in English): The day of eruption would perhaps be the doomsday, Dec. 21, 2010, which the Mayans predicted.

Many Koreans have expressed deep worry over the potentially dreadful consequences of the eruption on struggling North Koreans, who will receive a full blast from Baekdu. Blogger Jinkyu01 elaborated on a possible post-eruption scenario. When the volcanic ash reaches the stratosphere, blocking and reflecting a substantial quanitity of the sun's rays, the temperature could suddenly drop to a point capable of inflicting damage to plants and further aggravate the already precarious food situation in North Korea. If the eruption takes place during the winter season, the harm could be maximized because the prevailing westerly and northeaster winds could carry the volcanic ash all the way to cities in the south, causing major fluctuations in the vegetable and fish supplies, with a corresponding effect on the currency market.

The blogger added that, after a large scale disaster, unprecedented public uproar and chaos could follow, an opinion shared by many North Korean experts:

또 하나 주의해야 할 점은 북한의 움직임이다. 큰 피해로 인해서 북한은 원조를 요청할 것이고, 이미 내부적으로 동요되고 있는 북한의 정세에서는 백두산 폭발이 도화선으로 작용해 현 정권에 반감을 가지는 주민들의 생각이 행동으로 옮겨질 가능성을 배제할 수 없다. 즉, 한반도는 정치적으로 매우 불안정한 상황에 놓이게 될 가능성이 있다는 것이다.

We need to watch out for North Korea’s move after the eruption. If they suffer severe damage, North Korea will be asking for international aid. Moreover, the eruption could trigger anti-government action by the North Korean public, since a lot of them have already started becoming disillusioned with the regime. In other words, it is likely that we shall see North Korea politics become highly unstable.

Although assumptions about the eruption are mushrooming, the credibility of the information has been called into question. A lack of research data on the volcanic activities of Baekdu Mountain, caused by North Korea’s reclusiveness, international border conflicts with China and its government no-share policy, is adding to the uncertainty. Local media’s over-exaggeration of the research results has been blamed as well for increasing public fear. South Korea’s newspaper, Hankyoreh, has reported that the 2014 doomsday theory is a wild story created by the media. The leading authority on Baekdu Mountain, Yoon Sung-Hyo, said in an interview with Hanhyoreh that he had been misquoted. Yoon confirmed that even though Baekdu is indeed an active volcanic mountain which will eventually erupt, nobody has sufficiently extensive data to pinpoint a specific year of eruption.

Considering that volcanic ash from Iceland covered the European continent, it is probable that the fallout from Baekdu will affect not only the two Koreas and bordering Chinese cities, but also mainland China, Japan and adjacent Asian countries. Blogger Capitan urged governments to form a joint research team and to promote international collaboration:

한국에서도 일본에서도 백두산 화산 폭발에 대해 우려를 보내고 있지만 중국학계에서는 정부의 지침에 따라 백두산 화산 활동 관련 자료를 공유하지 않고 있다고 한다…백두산 화산 활동 관련 연구를 남북한 그리고 중국이 공동 조사팀을 만들어서 정말 앞으로 어떤 사태가 벌어질 것인지에 대한 분명한 조사 및 조기 경보 체제를 만들 필요가 있다고 생각한다. 만일 이 위험지대에 중국이 원전(원자력 발전소) 6기를 건설하고 가동시킨다면 백두산 화산이 폭발할 경우 체르노빌 원전사고 보다 끔찍한 재앙, 참사가 될 것이다.

Although South Korea and Japan are voicing concerns over the possible eruption of Mt. Baekdu, Chinese academics, following its government’s guidelines, do not share its resources on Mt. Baekdu’s volcanic activities with others. We need to build a joint research team on Baekdu’s volcanic activities comprised of South Korean, North Korean and Chinese experts and try to make clear investigations into future scenarios and install a new alert system on volcanic activities. If China ever built 6 nuclear plants in the danger zone (as it plans to do), Mt. Baekdu’s eruption will turn into a catastrophe more destructive than the Chernobyl disaster.

Luckily, the South Korean government announced Tuesday that it may launch a government task force to prepare measures to deal with the mountain’s volcanic activities. And, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) promised on Thursday to provide information to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA). Meanwhile, NK Inside, the South Korean website which offers extensive analyses on North Korean issues, have approached the possible disaster from the “Karma” angle:

또 북한의 핵실험에 대한 후과일 수도 있다는 전문가의 의견도 있다. 직접적인 연관성을 찾기는 상당히 여러울 것이다. 하지만 추측할 수 있는 건, 북한에서 핵실험과 미사일 개발 등 나쁜 짓을 하도 많이 하다 보니 대지의 신 가이아가 놀라셨을 수도 있다.

Some experts say that the future eruption is the by-product of North Korea’s nuclear tests. It will be extremely hard to figure out the logical route that connects the eruption with North's past nuclear tests. But what can be assumed is that the Mother Gaia may have been shocked by North Korea’s evil deeds, such as the nuclear test and missile developments.

Another theory cites the 2002 Chinese earthquake as a major factor in the reawakening of the mountain's volcanic nature. It may take a certain amount of time to verify the cause of Baekdu's recent volcanic activities, but the solution has already been offered. But true, sincere international cooperation, always the best and only resolution to global issues, would perhaps be harder to achieve than ordering a volcano to stop breathing.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.