Kim Jong-un’s nuclear testing rampage hasn’t just shocked the world — it might have also shaken a nearby volcano out of its slumber.
In a new study published in Nature, a team of seismologists warn that the North Korean government’s repeated explosive tests could soon wake up the dormant Mount Paektu, a 9,000-foot volcano just 72 miles away from North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear proving grounds.
The specter of Mount Paektu’s last eruption in 1903 still looms over both North and South Korea. Recent seismic activity and increased sulfur dioxide output has stoked fears it may reawaken.
Led by a team of researchers from South Korea, the new study argues that “strong ground motions” — caused by, say, a nuclear bomb — could shake up Mount Paektu’s magma chamber, speeding up its activity.
“An underground nuclear explosion test near an active volcano constitutes a direct threat to the volcano,” they write.
When it comes to volcanic activity, they suggest detonating a bomb could have similar effects to a large-scale earthquake. The researchers used computer modeling to estimate the effect a “hypothetical” underground North Korean nuclear explosion would have on the motion of earth around Mount Paektu — and, by extension, on the the volcano’s magma chamber.
A hypothetical quake of magnitude 7.0 would cause the ground around the volcano to accelerate both horizontally and vertically, they say, causing pressure to spike inside the magma chamber.
When too much pressure builds inside this pot of boiling lava, bubbles start to form — and if the volcano bubbles over, that’s an eruption. A pressure change of lower than 1,000 kPa can trigger this process. North Korean explosions, the researchers write, register on the scale of 10 to 100 kPa, “giving us serious reason for concern over the possible triggering of volcanic eruption.”
Whether the prospect of a potentially devastating volcanic eruption will put a damper on Kim Jong-un’s nuclear testing party remains to be seen. The Dear Leader is probably feeling pretty hot right now — his successful launch of a long-range missile earlier this month was a triumphant fuck-you to the West — so it’s increasingly unlikely he’ll let a bit of boiling magma rain on his nuclear parade.