by Sarah Simpson
One of today’s most dangerous volcanoes is one you’ve probably never heard about. The North Koreans call it Paektu; the Chinese call it Changbai. In a headline Friday, Science called it Mount Doom.
The picturesque, lake-topped peak, which straddles the border between North Korea and China, “explodes to life every 100 years or so, the last time in 1903,” reports Science’s Richard Stone, who visited Mount Doom in September with two volcanologists from the U.K.
The volcano’s most dramatic eruption rivaled the famous 1815 Tambora eruption in Indonesia, Stone writes, and it could unleash more of the same:
“Around 1000 years ago, the volcano rained tephra—pumice and ash—across 33,000 square kilometers of northeast China and Korea, dumping 5 centimeters of ash as far away as Japan…. Because Changbai's silica-rich magma is viscous and gassy, allowing pressure to build, the next eruption should be explosive.”
If a similar eruption occurred today, 100,000 people would be vulnerable to avalanches of superheated gas, rock and ash called pyroclastic flows. Even a much smaller eruption could catastrophically drain the deep lake that now sits atop the mountain. Mixed with rocks, mud and vegetation, all that water would become a soupy stew called a lahar, which would hurtle down the lake’s single outlet, a narrow valley on the Chinese side where 60,000 people reside.
University of Oregon supervolcano expert Ilya Bindeman has had his eye on Changbai-Paektu for some time. “It’s not quite a supervolcano, but close,” he told Discovery News. Like Tambora, Changbai-Paektu is a 7 on the scale of known eruptions; a true supervolcano is an 8. Bindeman says only five regions have experienced supereruptions in the past two million years: Yellowstone and Long Valley in the western U.S., Toba in Sumatra, Taupo in New Zealand and Kamchatka in Russia, which Bindeman and his colleagues only recently discovered.
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