At 09:54 local time this morning, a magnitude 4.7 earthquake hit a region of North Korea 200 miles north-east of Pyongyang.
So what? I’ve experienced a 5.0 sitting in my back garden, and it was a curious experience. All I remember thinking was “oooh my first quake!” and “I’ll have to tweet about this!“. Then I quickly forgot about it. Apart from the possibility of making that crack in my bedroom ceiling a bit wider, a 5.0 is memorable, but not particularly damaging. I’m sure that if an unsafe structure is hit by a quake of that size, there might be a little more damage than a few cracks in plaster, but in LA, it was fairly unremarkable. But it is entertaining.
So why is there all this fuss about a 4.7 quake deep within the secret nation of North Korea? Well, this is the interesting bit.
The location where the earthquake struck doesn’t get earthquakes. As in, seismic activity has been pretty much non-existent for the last 30 years. Compare that with the California shimmies: we have a stonking huge fault (the San Andreas) running right through the middle of our state. That’s not including all the smaller faults that zig-zag the West Coast of the US. I live atop one of the most seismically active regions on the planet (earthquakes and wildfires? Good move Ian!); we get small quakes all the time. North Korea, not so much.
So, when the USGS saw this 4.7 blip on their seismographs, coffee might have been spilled on some keyboards. It was caused by an underground nuclear test. North Korea has detonated a bomb 6.2 miles under the crust of their country which kick-started this artificial earthquake. Sure enough, a state-run North Korean news agency confirmed how insane their government is by releasing this statement:
“[North Korea] successfully conducted another underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of its measures aimed at strengthening its self-defense nuclear deterrent in every way.” —Korean Central News Agency
Deterrent? Are you sure? What are they deterring?
Judging by the frakked-up satellite-submarine launch in April, the nation’s nuclear missile fleet probably isn’t the best in the world, and there’s not many warheads in the armory. So globally, North Korea isn’t fooling anyone.
However, this new test will cause grave concern for the region if the NK dictatorship starts sipping too much of the Kool-Aid. The nightmare scenario would be a nuclear-tipped ICBM dropping into South Korea or Japan. Unfortunately, when you have a crazy person living in a military state, cut off from the rest of the world, all bets are off when they are in charge of the Red Button.
Needless to say, the political fallout will be huge, which is kinda the point. They like propaganda. Especially when a nuclear test’s effects are more than just seismic, it looks as if the economic markets are shaking too. Also, big changes are afoot in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il appears to be in the process of handing over power to his brother-in-law, so who knows what’s going to happen next… expect a few more artificial quakes in the future…