Mount Paektu, a volcano on the border of North Korea and China, is at risk of erupting according to a study published on April 15 in the journal Science Advances. An international team of scientists found a significant layer of partially melted rock, suggesting that the volcano is active.

North Korea asked the scientists from the US, UK, North Korea, and China to look into the volcano after it started rumbling in the early 2000s. The isolated country feared it would erupt like it did 1,000 years before.

The research team began the study in 2011. However, the study initially faced several challenges. The researchers pointed out that some tools with military use were prohibited to be brought inside North Korea.

Location in North Korea, on the border with China.. Credit: Wikimedia/Urutseg

Location in North Korea, on the border with China. Credit: Wikimedia/Urutseg

The approval of seismometers on this North Korea volcano even took two years. Moreover, the language barrier considerably slowed down the process of translating everything. Nevertheless, each team member built strong relationships and worked well together, eventually.

When they were given the go signal, they set up their seismometers on the North Korean side of the mountain to measure seismic waves which are produced by an earthquake as well as gathered rocks to give them insight about Mount Paektu.

They did not find any liquid magma near the North Korea volcano surface. However, they discovered an extensive magma beneath the mountain which is a mixture of crystals and molten rocks located 35 kilometres deep. Still, the researchers suggest more studies are still needed to verify its implications.

“One of the challenges now is to go beyond simply saying there’s magma in the crust, discovering instead how it’s sitting, how much there is and what are the implications,” says co-author James Hammond of the University of London. “It’s only when it gets to a certain amount and a certain overpressure that it will erupt.”

Apparently, Mount Paektu’s eruption in 946 AD was one of the largest in history, second only to the 1815 eruption of an obscure volcano in Indonesia called Mount Tambora. Mount Paektu’s eruption formed a five-kilometre crater and emitted ashes that covered Japan, 1,100 kilometres away from the site.