Here’s How North Korea Could Accidentally Trigger A Volcanic Super Eruption

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES SCIENCE)

 

Science #WhoaScience

Here’s How North Korea Could Accidentally Trigger A Volcanic Super Eruption

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Scientific hypotheses are normally quite fun to try and gather evidence for. Einstein’s ground-breaking theories of relativity, for example, have been continuously backed up by the most extraordinary discoveries ever since they were first published near the start of the 20th Century.

In science, proving bad ideas wrong is a marvel, but confirming that your ideas are correct is arguably even more thrilling. There are exceptions to this though, and since North Korea is in the news a lot at the moment – in-between mentions of the Nazis and the President’s inability to look at the eclipse properly, that is – it’s worth taking a look at the Hermit Kingdom’s sleeping dragon: a volcano named Mount Paektu.

This picture taken on August 14, 2017 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) at an undisclosed location. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Located on the border of China and North Korea, it’s got one hell of a reputation. The current leader of North Korea is supposed to have summited the 2,744-metre (9,003-foot) stratovolcanic beast all by himself on foot, which seems about as unlikely as the story of the late Kim Jong-il being born there.

Putting aside its mythology, it’s currently causing concern among volcanologists. Its storied geological history – which we’ll get into in just a tad – is so violent that even the notoriously secretive North Korean government has enlisted the help of British researchers to poke around a bit.

The rare international scientific collaboration revealed that the magma chamber plumbing system beneath this mountain is far from dead; seismic imaging suggests that it has a fiery soul that’s tens of kilometres across and several kilometres deep. Someday, all that magma is going to burst forth at the surface. The key question here, as always, is when?

Well, bizarrely, thanks to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, it might be any day now. According to a separate studyconducted over the last couple of years, the country’s underground weapons tests are sending powerful pressure waves towards Paektu’s massive magma chamber. This pressure is essentially being transferred to the magma, and at a certain point, it could cause the rock surrounding the partly liquid doom to crack, and thereby trigger an eruption.

Farm/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Heaven’s Lake, at the top of Mount Paektu, seen here in winter.

Mathematics is a rather wonderful thing. It can predict with perfection when and where solar eclipses will happen, just as it can calculate how long it will take for Jupiter’s moon Io to be torn apart by the gas giant’s immense gravitational well. In this instance, it can also be used to work out how powerful an underground nuclear blast is required to push a magma chamber into a state of overpressure.

The most recent nuclear weapons tests, based on their seismic wave patterns, are around 5-5.6M on the moment magnitude scale, which – along with plenty of other evidence – suggests they are basic atomic weapons, with yields of around 10 kilotonnes of TNT. For comparison, the atomic weapon dropped on Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War had an explosive yield of just over twice that.

Although these pressure waves did indeed make their way towards Mount Paektu 116 kilometers away, they clearly weren’t enough to trigger an eruption. In order to send the magma chamber into overpressure, North Korea would need to detonate a hydrogen bomb at the same Punggye-ri subterranean test site. This more complex two-step device, one which uses a fission (splitting) reaction in a primary bomb component to compress a heavy hydrogen core (fusion) in a secondary component.

Even the most simplistic hydrogen bomb would create an earthquake registering as a 7.0M, and according to the study, this would be enough to trigger an eruption. If it did, then what would happen? Well, let’s take a look at the aforementioned history of Paektu.

All it could take is just one hydrogen bomb, and the world will hear the result. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Although there was a minor eruption back in 1903, back in the year 946, a true cataclysm occurred. Known as the Millennium Eruption, it unleashed 100 cubic kilometres of volcanic debris, smothered the surrounding landscape in pyroclastic flows, and unleashed 1,000 times more energy than the famous 1980 eruption at Mount St. Helens.

The eruption also flooded the regional skies with 45 million tonnes of sulphur aerosols, which plunged the area into darkness. Although it didn’t affect the climate as much as researchers expected, if it were to happen again today, many thousands of people would die, and millions more would see their agriculture collapse. In a country that is already vulnerable to food shortages, this could trigger an unprecedented famine – which, in turn, could trigger all kinds of chaos.

Who knows. Maybe the mathematical calculations are off, or maybe an eruption at Paektu would be more like the one at the turn of the 20th Century than the one that took place a thousand or so years ago.

The only way for this hypothesis to be proven is to see what happens when North Korea actually detonates a hydrogen bomb – a milestone that no other nation on Earth wants them to achieve.

North Korea Sets Off Nuclear Bomb

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Trump says appeasement ‘will not work’ after N.K. nuclear test

(CNN)President Donald Trump condemned North Korea’s claimed test of a hydrogen bomb in a series of tweets Sunday morning, calling Pyongyang’s words and actions “hostile and dangerous” and saying “talk of appeasement will not work.”

“North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States,” Trump wrote, adding that Pyongyang “has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success.”
“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” the President wrote.
Trump will meet with his national security team Sunday to discuss the situation, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday morning.
“The National security team is monitoring this closely,” Sanders said. “The President and his national security team will have a meeting to discuss further later today. We will provide updates as necessary.”
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This is North Korea’s sixth-ever test of a nuclear weapon and the first since Trump took office.
The test was a “perfect success” and the final step in attaining a “state nuclear force,” North Korean news anchor Ri Chun Hee said in a televised announcement Sunday.
The news report claimed the weapon was designed to fit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. The nuclear test follows two successful tests of the long-range missile in July and a shorter-range one in late August.
In a high-level national security meeting, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the move a “an absurd strategic mistake” that will lead to the international community further isolating Pyongyang.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement released by his office Sunday that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development “has entered a new level of threat — more grave and imminent — against Japan’s national security and seriously undermines the peace and security of the region as well as the international community.”
The statement adds “given the fact that North Korea has belligerently conducted ballistic missile launches repeatedly this year, the UN Security Council has strongly condemned these actions. Under such circumstances, this nuclear test, which North Korea conducted today despite these calls, is totally unacceptable.”
China, North Korea’s only real ally and patron, said its neighbor “disregarded universal opposition of the international community” by conducting the test.”
“We strongly urge North Korea side to face up to the firm will of the international community on the denuclearization of the peninsula, abide by relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, stop taking wrong actions that exacerbate the situation and are not in its own interest, and return to the track of resolving the issue through dialogue,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that he would like a “measured” response from the Oval Office.
“Obviously, you’d like a leader that is measured and sober and consistent,” Flake said, adding, “We’ve got a good team around the President.”
Flake echoed the administration’s previous statements on the North Korean nuclear threat, saying all options needed to be on the table — including military ones — and said there is no clear path forward to resolving Pyongyang’s continued nuclear development.
“It becomes cliche to say there are no good options here, but there really aren’t,” Flake said.
Experts say it is nearly impossible to verify with certainty Pyongyang’s claim that it detonated a hydrogen bomb, which is also known as a thermonuclear weapon, or whether it can actually be used successfully on a missile. Thermonuclear weapons typically use a fission explosion to create a fusion reaction, which is far more powerful than a fission reaction.
NORSAR, an independent seismic monitor, estimated the blast created a yield of about 120 kilotons. The tremors caused by North Korea’s Sunday test were at least 10 times more powerful than the fifth test, Japanese officials said. An official at the Korea Meteorological Administration estimated the blast was about 50 kilotons.
The test came just hours after North Korea released images of leader Kim Jong Un inspecting what it said was a hydrogen bomb ready to be put on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the type of weapon the country would need to use to deliver a nuclear warhead to far-away locations.
Sunday’s test comes almost one year after Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test last September, which triggered a 5.3-magnitude seismological event. That took place on September 9, the country’s Foundation Day holiday. North Korea claimed it set off a thermonuclear weapon during that test, but experts said the data showed it was more likely a boosted fission weapon.

North Korea: Kim Jong Un Observes Missile-Ready Hydrogen Bomb

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

North Korea: Kim Jong Un observes missile-ready hydrogen bomb

Story highlights

  • State media: Kim Jong Un visits the country’s Nuclear Weapons Institute
  • The hydrogen bomb claim cannot be independently verified

Seoul, South Korea (CNN)North Korea’s regime has “succeeded in making a more developed nuke,” according to the country’s state news agency.

The Korean Central News Agency described it as a “nuke” in its English-language report, but called it a “thermonuclear hydrogen bomb” in the Korean version.
During a visit to the country’s Nuclear Weapons Institute, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “watched an H-bomb to be loaded into new ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile),” KCNA reported.
There was no independent confirmation of the claims.
“The H-bomb, the explosive power of which is adjustable from tens kiloton to hundreds kiloton, is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals,” KCNA reported in English.
This week, North Korea launched an intermediate-range missile, identified by the North Koreans as the Hwasong-12. The missile flew over Japan, further exacerbating tensions between North Korea and the United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea.
North Korea has been test-firing missiles at a rapid pace all year. With each launch, experts say Pyongyang can further refine and perfect its missile technology.