Researchers say the sacred Mt. Paektu - or Changbai in Chinese - located along the border between Korea and China could erupt anytime.
A Violent Past
Mt. Paektu has been inactive in recent decades since its last eruption in 1903, but earthquakes in the area were recorded between 2002 and 2005.
Seismic activity usually causes underground magma shift. This has prompted North Korean scientists to wonder whether Mt. Paektu is getting ready to unleash a massive eruption at any moment.
The volcano has had a violent past. Experts say Mt. Paektu spewed one of the largest eruptions in the planet in 946 CE, blasting 96 cubic kilometers of rocks and ash as far away as Japan.
Despite Mt. Paektu's raging outbursts, scientists have yet to unravel mysteries surrounding the 9,000-foot-tall peak. Researchers are using an array of seismometers to peer beneath the volcano.
"It is a volcano with a dramatic past," says seismologist James Hammond, who is part of the research team in North Korea. "We do not know much about it.
What Could Happen If It Erupts?
With six seismometers placed in Mt. Paektu, Hammond and his colleagues detected partially molten rocks in the crust.
The question is: will the melt turn into an eruption? Although volcanologists cannot say for certain, they believe that Mt. Paektu could potentially erupt.
If Mt. Paektu fully wakes up, researchers say the eruption could reach about 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, away from its summit.
What's more, more than 1.6 million North Koreans living within 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, of the volcano would be greatly affected.
Hammond, a geophysics expert from the University of London, has warned that the impact could go way beyond North Korea and China should the volcano erupt.
"We need to keep an eye on it," says Hammond.
Stephen Grand, a seismologist from the University of Texas in Austin, says the chances of a very destructive eruption is very real. He adds that the subsurface could help scientists predict the future, but it won't be definitive.
"One would need to follow how the current situation changes with time going forward," says Grand.
Kayla Iacovino, an expert from U.S. Geological Survey who worked on Mt. Paektu in 2013, added that the volcano's eruption could certainly affect trade routes as well as commercial airline traffics.
Mt. Paektu is holy to North Koreans who have turned the volcano into the country's national emblem. It is said to be the place where the founder of the first Korean kingdom was born.
The findings of the study are featured in the journal Science Advances.