Why this fear?
Experts fear more tests at the Punggye-ri testing site could cause Mount Baekdu (Paektu) – sacred in North Korea and in close proximity to the area – to errupt. Rocket Man Kim Jong-un.
The original question is if the nuclear testing at Punggye-ri could trigger an eruption at Paektu. But let us start with the age old question of large earthquakes causing volcanoes to erupt.
Can large earthquakes trigger volcanic eruptions?
Although there are no clear links between strong earthquakes and volcanic eruption. Only one case – a M7.5 earthquake in Quetzaltenango in Guatemala on April 18, 1902 after a 3 month long earthquake swarm – is thought to have produced the eruption of Santa Maria a few weeks later.
That being said, if there is a large earthquake above M8 occurring within 100km from a volcano that is teetering on the brink of an eruption it could set off the eruption prematurely.
What about Paektu volcano?
- There is nothing much pointing towards Baekdu being near an eruption, only several phases of intrusion (2002-2003 and 2005-2008) – normal for volcanoes.
- The 946AD eruption destroyed the magma chamber under the mountain. Large magma reservoirs take their own sweet time to build up again and there are no signs that Mount Paektu has rebuilt sufficiently for another large eruption.
So, even if Baekdu was on the brink of an eruption, and a large earthquake occurred next to it, there would be a bit of ash ejected, but not the doom and gloom that people dream up.
Mount Baekdu and Punggye-ri
The nuclear test site is located 114 kilometers southeast of Mount Paektu. In other words, we would need a sizeable earthquake to theoretically set off an eruption. And the North Korean man-made M6.3 is not even by a longshot large enough.
North Korea has no bomb that could possible trigger a mega earthquake strong enough to trigger a volcanic eruption.
The Tsar Bomba is the only detonated nuclear device able to produce an earthquake larger than M8 – precisely M8.35 earthquake.
If Kim decided to test it underground he would produce a VEI-6 radioactive caldera about 5 kilometres in diameter. In the process he would make half of his country uninhabitable.
An aerial test would be even worse. The fireball of the Tsar Bomba was 10 km in radius and the foot of the mushroom cloud was 40km wide. Everything 100km out from the detonation would be a total loss and all building 250 kilometres out would be damaged with a high rate of dead people. In other words, his country would be gone from right under his pudgy little basketball-playing feet.
And what about the Chinese?
China has a veritable army of very well funded and well equipped geologists, seismologists and geophysicists. What they found was that two M5 earthquakes happened at the same place as the latest nuclear test within 8 minutes after the detonation.
This is due to the fact that a nuclear underground detonation causes a cavity to form below ground. Since the North Koreans have been using the same site for all of their nuclear tests there are now 5 cavities of ever increasing size and thus THE ENTIRE SITE IS GEOLOGICALLY UNSTABLE.
CHINESE SCIENTISTS HAVE CALCULATED THAT A SIXTH NUCLEAR TEST AT THIS SITE WOULD CAUSE AN IMMINENT COLLAPSE AND ANOTHER MAJOR RADIOACTIVE DISASTER!
But let us HOPE that Kim is NOT nuts enough to blow away his own country just to set off Baekdu supervolcano.