South Korea is bracing for possible volcanic activity at Mount Paektu on the North Korean-Chinese border, after detecting topographical signs that indicate the dormant mountain may awaken within years, the weather agency said yesterday.

The last volcanic eruption at the 2,744-meter Mount Paektu was in 1903. It has since been considered inactive, but experts became concerned about a possible eruption after a magnitude-7.3 quake hit China's northeastern Jilin Province in 2002.

Since then, minor tremors close to the peak have become 10 times more frequent, experts say. Historic records indicate volcanic activity has previously occurred on the mountain roughly every 100 years.

"We will come up with comprehensive countermeasures within this year at national levels and try to arrange international cooperation as well," said Jeon Byung-sung, chief of the Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul.

At a KMA seminar earlier this week, an expert said that Mount Paektu could erupt "within several years," citing topographical signs and international studies. Some Chinese experts even predict that there may be an eruption between 2014 and 2015, said Yun Sung-whyo, a geology professor at Pusan National University.

"I cannot say for sure when that will be because I don't have the Chinese observation data in detail, but it is a certainty that there are signs that Mount Paektu may have an eruption in the near future," Yoon said at the seminar.

In addition to frequent tremors in northeast China, Russian satellite photos suggest the topography of Mount Paektu has risen slightly in recent years. Also, volcanic gas has been spewing at the mountaintop and from forests below Lake Chonji.

In February, a magnitude 6.9 quake was reported in a Chinese region close to Mount Paektu, and experts say the quake may have agitated the four-strata magma field directly below the Chonji lake.

Yoon said that if Paektu does erupt, the damage will far exceed the airline chaos caused when a volcano in Iceland erupted last April. That eruption spewed about 0.11 cubic kilometers of lava, but lava flows and ashes from the Korean mountain will be of greater volume, Yoon said.

"Mount Paektu is commonly referred to as a 'dormant mountain,' but it's a general view among experts that any mountain that has a record of volcanic activity in human history should be seen as active. Mount Paektu should be considered an active volcano that can erupt any time," he said.

The KMA will discuss countermeasures with local disaster prevention agencies and aviation authorities, and also seek China's cooperation to better monitor activity at the mountain, Hong said.