Category Archive: Paektu

Epic Journey to Paektu volcano, North Korea: Or, How to Service a Seismometer in -12 °C

Just two months ago this August, Volcanofile Kayla ventured along with volcanologist (and Volcanofile PhD supervisor) Dr. Clive Oppenheimer and seismologist Dr. James Hammond to a remote volcano that straddles the North Korea-China political border.

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Peering into the caldera of Mt. Paektu this August (photo credit: Kayla Iacovino/The Volcanofiles)

The gigantic 7 km-wide caldera that hosts a deep Lake Chon was created about a century ago in one of the largest volcanic eruptions to occur on Earth in the last 2,000 years. A few years ago, the volcano started acting up after decades of quiescence. It awoke with a seismic crisis that lasted from 2002-2005. The new rumblings caused anxiety in the region, since little was known about the slumbering giant Paektu.

So, the Mount Paektu Geoscientific Experiment, a UK-US-DPRK collaboration, was born, and after two years of bureaucracy, the international team made it to the DPRK along with a set of seismometers and empty sample bags. The trip was a great success, thanks to extensive support from North Korean scientists and officials. Not too long after the team’s return, however, it was discovered that some of the seismometers were acting up.

“We only have these seismometers for a year,” says Kayla Iacovino, Volcanofile and PhD student working at Paektu, “so, it’s imperative that we get as much data as possible from all of the stations.” Just this month, seismologist James Hammond set off on an epic adventure to service those stations. Why so epic? Paektu, while temperate and quite agreeable in August, is known for some of the most extreme weather on Earth. What was a picturesque, lush area in summer quickly became a white, frozen mountain peak only passable with the right gear.

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James Hammond’s view of the Paektu crater covered in fresh October snow (photo credit: James Hammond)

“I am back in Pyongyang after a trip that can only be described as epic,” Hammond wrote in an email to his UK-based team. “It was very challenging both physically and mentally, but the good news is that all our stations are now working.”

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(photo credit: James Hammond)

The project was made possible with help from AAAS, the Royal Society in London, the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), and Pyongyang International Information of New Technology and Economy Center (PIINTEC), a DPRK non-governmental and non-profit organization that organizes international exchanges and cooperation.

Follow the team on twitter:
James Hammond @joshammond
Kayla Iacovino @kaylai
Clive Oppenheimer @ultraplinian
The Volcanofiles @TheVolcanofiles