Seismically Imaging beneath Paektu/Changbaishan Volcano

This project is available from the academic year 2025/26 onwards.

Theme: Solid Earth Dynamics

Primary Supervisor:

James Hammond

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, BBK

James Hammond's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Maxim Ballmer

Earth Sciences, UCL

Maxim Ballmer's Profile Picture

Additional Supervisor(s):
Wei Wei (China Earthquake Administration)

Project Description:

Mount Paektu, which sits on the border between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, commonly known as North Korea) and China, was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past several millennia in 946 CE. Most theories for its origin have been influenced by seismic tomography showing the Pacific slab lying horizontally in the transition zone beneath the East/Japan Sea and Korean Peninsula. This has led to the formulation of the ‘big mantle wedge’ model as the dominant theory for the volcano’s origin, where water released from the slab in the transition zone results in compositionally buoyant material rising and melting in the uppermost mantle. However, this subject remains controversial with more recent tomography suggesting the presence of a hole in the subducted slab in the transition zone, which may allow hot sub-slab material to rise or models invoke shallow processes such as edge-driven convection causing shallow melting. In a unique UK-DPRK-Chinese collaboration we will deploy 55 broadband seismic stations in the first ever cross-border study. The student will use a variety of seismic techniques (e.g., shear-wave splitting, surface and body-wave inversions) to characterise seismic anisotropy in the mantle beneath the volcano and link this with numerical models for mantle flow in the region. This will help address the origins and dynamics driving volcanism in the region. The studentship is part of a larger multi-disciplinary project using seismology (tomography, receiver functions, attenuation studies) and geochemical analyses to understand the origin of this enigmatic volcano. There will be opportunities to study in China and conduct seismic fieldwork in DPRK and China.

Policy Impact of Research:

A future eruption of Paektu is a primary concern to our partners in China and DPRK. This cross-border project is part of a larger effort to help understand the history and dynamics of the volcano and address this concern. The project is also considered a good example of science diplomacy.


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