Magnitude-3.4 earthquake in North Korea could be nuclear test

Opinions are divided on whether the quake was caused by a human-made explosion

Kim Jong Un seen in KRT TV footage Saturday with potential plans for new missiles. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – There were conflicting reports Saturday evening as to whether a magnitude-3.4 earthquake in North Korea was natural or the result of a nuclear test.

The war of words between North Korea’s communist leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump recently escalated into direct insults, with Pyongyang’s foreign minister even suggesting the explosion of a hydrogen bomb above the Pacific was a possibility.

Since previous nuclear tests have resulted in earthquakes, there was a belief in some quarters that the latest tremor was again evidence of Kim’s will to challenge the international community.

However, the interpretation of Saturday’s quake varied according to several factors for and against each hypothesis.

Chinese seismologists spoke of a suspected explosion, according to a BBC report, as the epicenter was located in the province which houses the Punggye-ri nuclear site and at a depth of 0 kilometers, in other words at the surface of the earth, a highly unusual place for a quake to strike.

Neighboring South Korea seemed to prefer the option of a natural quake due to the absence of a certain type of sound waves typical for human-induced tremors such as nuclear tests, reports said.

The United States Geological Survey sat on the fence, saying it was unable to reach a decision either way, though it placed the epicenter at a depth of 5 km.

According to the BBC, an alternative theory proposed by some North Korea experts said the collapse of tunnels at the testing site could have caused the tremor.