Korean Volcanoes Map
Credit: Created by TanoCalvenoa on InfoBarrel, using a public domain NASA image for the background.

Two of four active Korean volcanoes are located on the mainland, and are part of North Korea. The other two are located on islands near the Korean Peninsula, and are part of South Korea.

Four active volcanoes in North and South Korea

Our planet has approximately 1,300 active volcanoes, with "active" most typically defined as any volcano that has erupted in the past 10,000 years, and is expected to erupt again.[1] Of Earth's many active volcanoes, four are part of either North or South Korea.

One of them is Baekdu Mountain, the tallest mountain in North Korea, located on the border between North Korea and China. Another is the tallest mountain in South Korea. Baekdu Mountain is a serious potential threat for a colossal eruption in the near future.[2]

This article uses some basic volcano terms such as crater, caldera, or stratovolcano. For explanations, see Types of Volcanoes and Volcanology Terms

Baekdu Mountain

Baekdu Mountain's Heaven Lake
Credit: From Wikipedia by Bdpmax, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Heavean Lake occupies the caldera atop Baekdu Mountain, on the border between North Korea and China.

The mountain is alternatively called Paektu or Changbai Mountain.[2]

The government of North Korea is well known for being a very oppressive dictatorship, and it's possible that their totalitarian reign could come to an end as a result of this stratovolcano.

The volcano's name in Korean translates to "Whitehead Mountain." It has had eruptions approximately every 100 years, with the most recent being in 1903 - so it is easy to see why scientists are very concerned that another could be coming soon.[2]

Not only this, but no one can predict the size of the next eruption - and this volcano in 969 AD produced such a large eruption that only one larger has occurred since, in over 1,000 years.[2] 

In the past eight thousand years, only three eruptions have been larger than the 969 AD eruption of Baekdu Mountain. They are Indonesia's Mount Tambora in 1815, Greece's Santorini Island in 1,600 BC, and New Zealand's Taupo Supervolcano in 180 AD. You'd have to go back to an eruption of Japan's Kikai Caldera in about 4,350 BC to find another eruption that was larger.[10]

Eruption size is measured according to how much material was ejected. The large eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington, USA in 1980 ejected one cubic kilometer of material.[3]

By comparison, the Baekdu Mountain eruption is estimated to have ejected 96 cubic kilometers. This is just shy of qualifying for level 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), on which a level 8 denotes a supervolcanic eruption.[11]

In other words, this is one of the largest active volcanoes on Earth other than the supervolcanoes, the three largest of which are Toba in Indonesia, Taupo in New Zealand, and Yellowstone in Wyoming, USA.

The mountain is 9,003 feet (2,743 meters) at the peak, and has a large caldera about three miles (5 km) across and 2,789 feet (850 meters) deep with a lake partially filling it, called Heaven Lake. It is popular for hiking, from both the China and North Korea sides. There are beautiful waterfalls, amongst other spectacular scenery.[2]

Chuga Ryong Volcano

Chuga Ryong Volcano
Credit: Public domain background.

What the Chuga Ryong Volcano looks like in an aerial photo.

This shield volcano near the border between North and South Korea, in the demilitarized zone between them - which despite its name is the most militarized border in the world - may not qualify as an active volcano.

Estimates for the most recent eruption are during the late Pleistocene Period to the early Holocene.[4] We live in the Holocene, which began about 11,700 years ago. If the eruption occurred in the early Holocene, then it may have happened in the past 10,000 years and thus qualify as an active volcano.

To the northwest by about 10 km (6 miles) is the city of Pyonggang, not to be confused with North Korea's capital city, Pyongyang. Notice the one-letter difference in spelling.

Cutting across the demilitarized zone is a rift in the Earth, along which this volcano is located. There are two sizable lava flows which are 40 km (25 miles) and 60 km (37 miles) in length, and the area has many small cinder cones associated with this shield volcano. Peak elevation of Chuga Ryong is just 1,483 feet (452 meters).[4][5]

Hallasan Volcano

Hallasan Volcano
Credit: Public domain photo from USGS.

Eruptions from Hallasan Volcano are the reason the island of Jeju exists off the coast of South Korea.[6]

The tallest mountain in South Korea is not on the Asian mainland, but on an island to the south, in the East China Sea, called Jeju. This island is about 45 miles long by 20 miles wide (72 km by 32 km), and Hallasan is a shield volcano in the approximate center. The peak elevation is 6,398 feet (1,950 meters), and the surrounding area is a national park.[6][7]

Known for beautiful scenery, the park is famous for its diversity of plant and animal life. Tourists climb the mountain, a hike of less than six miles (ten km) each way, although it is often very windy and the peak is often obscured by clouds. There are two trails to the summit.[7]

There is a Buddhist temple on the mountain, approximately 700 years old. The top of the mountain has a large crater, with a lake which has a name that translates to White Deer Lake. All around the mountain are hundreds of small cinder cones which are associated with the main volcano.[7]

The last time this volcano erupted was in the year 1,007 AD, just over a thousand years ago.[7]

Ulleungdo Volcano

Ulleungdo Volcano
Credit: Public domain photo from NASA.

Ulleungdo is an island just off the eastern coast of South Korea.

South Korea's other active volcano is also not located on the mainland, but on an island 75 miles (121 km) to the east of the Korean Peninsula. The island is about 7 miles (11 km) by 8 miles (13 km) in size.[8]

This is a stratovolcano that rises from the sea floor, and the peak is 3,228 ft (984 meters) above sea level.[8]

It used to be taller, although a massive eruption about 9,350 years ago blew apart the mountain leaving a caldera in the place of the former peak. Estimates for the eruption size are for a rating of 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), which indicates a large eruption of at least 10 cubic km of material ejected.[8]

The eruption of this volcano 9,350 years ago was at least as large as that of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991,[9] although smaller than what Mount Baekdu accomplished, as discussed above, in 969 AD.

The most recent eruption of Ulleungdo Volcano occurred about 5,000 years ago. This is a popular tourist destination, and there are about 10,000 residents on the island.[8]

Baekdu Mountain during winter

Baekdu Mountain in Winter
Credit: From Wikipedia by Farm, CC BY-SA 3.0.

During winter, Heaven Lake freezes over and takes on a different form of beauty.