Science Engagement with the DPRK: The Mount Paektu Research Centre

Written by: Martin Uden  |  Posted on: February 17th, 2023


Over 60 members and guests of the British Korean Society and the Royal Society attended a fascinating lecture on 9 February 2023 at the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace.  Past Foreign Secretaries of the Royal Society, Sir Richard Catlow and Sir Martyn Poliakoff, and the Korean Ambassador were in the audience, with Sir Martyn, the Ambassador and your Chairman giving short introductory addresses.


James Hammond, Amy Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer spoke about various aspects of the incredible UK/China/DPRK collaboration (with US funding) which has been researching the iconic Mount Paektu on the North Korean/Chinese border for the last 12 years.  This has required frequent visits to the area on both sides of the border, installing and checking on monitoring instruments.  This was particularly important following seismic activity in the first decade of this century, but they have not concluded that any eruption is imminent (or, for that matter, likely to be triggered by any nuclear tests).


They have also undertaken multi-faceted research into establishing the exact date of the largest eruption of the volcano in recent history – known to have taken place around a millennium ago.  Using carbon dating on trees preserved in the lava and ash, then dendrochronology on the tree rings, working from known solar activity prior to the eruption and finally from court and temple records in Korean and Japan, they have been able to pinpoint the eruption as taking place on 2 November 946 AD.  An incredible piece of detective work.


The speakers were also keen to encourage further joint scientific work with the DPRK in the environmental sphere and asked the audience to consider such projects wherever possible.


The British Korean Society is particularly grateful to the Royal Society for graciously hosting this event as well as to the speakers for a well-targeted presentation which the lay audience was able to follow!

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