October 19, 2017 Bill Still

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N. Korean Nuke Tests Could Trigger Supervolcano

The last North Korean underground nuke test inside Mt. Mantap, set off worrisome deep-earth tremors that may signal the reawakening of nearby Mt. Paektu, history’s most devastating supervolcano. Mt. Paektu last exploded in the year 946. Despite blowing off the top of the mountain and creating a huge lake – Lake Chon – 8 miles wide in its caldera, it still stands as North Korea’s highest mountain at 9,000 feet, only about 30 miles to the northwest of the nuclear test site inside Mount Mantap. Despite North Korea’s distrust of foreigners, especially scientists, an international committee has been allowed to take a look at the situation. According to one of the researchers, Dr. James Hammond, of the Univ. of London, the last eruption was the most devastating in history. Ashes showered much of Japan, 500 miles away. According to another member of this team, Dr. Stephen Grant, a seismologist at the Univ. of Austin says: “The risk of a destructive eruption is very real.” The team concluded that the 946 eruption of Mr. Paektu could have released more sulphur into the atmosphere than the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815 in Indonesia. That eruption caused what was known as the “year without a summer” because so much ash was hurtled into the upper atmosphere that global temperatures plummeted worldwide causing crop failures and famines worldwide. Even in the northern hemisphere, a high-altitude reddish fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight so that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Such detailed records are not available from the last eruption of Mt. Peaktu a thousand years ago, but at least it was the second only to Mt. Tambora. Scientists have now created a Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI. Mt. Paektu and Mt. Tambora are the only two volcanic eruptions which merit a VEI of 7. To provide some scale, a more recent explosive volcano was also in the islands that today make up Indonesia – Krakatoa – in 1883 – 68 years after Mt. Tambora. It is now designated as a VEI-6 volcanic eruption, but let’s look at the consequences.

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