News FocusGeophysics

Vigil at North Korea's Mount Doom

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Science  04 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6056, pp. 584-588
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6056.584

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Historical records and ash layers indicate that Mount Paektu, a volcano that straddles the border between North Korea and China, explodes to life every 100 years or so, the last time in 1903. (Two-thirds of the mountain is in China, where it is called Changbai.) Around 1000 years ago, the volcano rained tephra—pumice and ash—across 33,000 square kilometers of northeast China and Korea, dumping 5 centimeters of ash as far away as Japan. Scientists are keeping a wary vigil. Because Changbai's silica-rich magma is viscous and gassy, allowing pressure to build, the next eruption should be explosive, researchers say. In recent months, Chinese researchers have observed geophysical anomalies, including elevated temperatures of hot springs and deflation of the caldera rim. But most concur that there is no evidence of magma rising toward the surface, which would signal an imminent eruption.