Experts suggest the quake, which measured 2.9 on the Richter scale, could mean the region has be destabilised by the country’s September 3 hydrogen bomb test, which caused a 6.3 magnitude earthquake
And they warned the Punggye-ri nuclear site may not be used for much longer to test nuclear weapons.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) shows the quake was detected just 23 kilometres from Sungjibaegam, a town close to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and added that it cannot confirm whether the earthquake was natural or man-made.
A statement on the US Geological Survey website reads: “This event occurred in the area of the previous North Korean Nuclear tests.
“The event has earthquake-like characteristics, however, we cannot conclusively confirm at this time the nature (natural or human-made) of the event.
North Korea: An earthquake hit the Punggye-ri nuclear site
Kim Jong Un’s nuclear test site could be at risk following the earthquake
The small quake was detected early on Friday near the North’s nuclear test site, South Korea’s weather agency said, but unlike quakes associated with nuclear tests, it did not appear to be manmade.
And the region has since been hit by a series of landslide and tremors in the wake of the incident.
Now experts and observers to suspect the last test – which the North claimed to be of a hydrogen bomb – may have damaged the mountainous location in the northwest tip of the country, where all of North Korea’s six nuclear tests were conducted.
Kim So-gu, head researcher at the Korea Seismological Institute, said: “The explosion from the Sept. 3 test had such power that the existing tunnels within the underground testing site might have caved in.
“I think the Punggye-ri region is now pretty saturated. If it goes ahead with another test in this area, it could risk radioactive pollution.”
1 of 9
The explosion from the Sept. 3 test had such power that the existing tunnels within the underground testing site might have caved in.
September’s nuclear test was so strong that it shook buildings in Russia and China and was described as a “perfect success” by North Korea’s state-run media.
All six of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have caused earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.3 or above, leading to suggestions that today’s quake may have been natural or caused by the collapse of a tunnel.
And now the latest earthquake to hit the region suggesting the detonations have dramatically destabilised the area.
According to 38 North, a Washington-based web journal which monitors North Korea, numerous landslides throughout the nuclear test site have been detected via satellite images after the sixth test. These disturbances are more numerous and widespread than seen after any of the North’s previous tests, 38 North said.
September’s nuclear test was so strong that it shook buildings in Russia and China
These disturbances are more numerous and widespread than seen after any of the North’s previous tests, 38 North said.
The explosion from the sixth test was large enough for residents of the Chinese border city of Yanji, 200 km (125 miles) north of North Korea’s nuclear test site, to feel the ground shake beneath their feet.
Hong Tae-kyung, a professor of earth system science at Yonsei University in Seoul, said: “The reason why Punggye-ri has become North Korea’s nuclear testing field is because this area was considered stable and rarely saw tremors in the past.
“The recent small quakes suggest that the test might have triggered crust deformation.”
Another issue that could keep North Korea from using Punggye-ri for nuclear tests the nearby active volcano of Mt. Paektu, Yonsei University’s Hong said.
The 2,744 metre (9,003 ft) mountain, straddling the northwestern border between China and North Korea, last erupted in 1903.
Since North Korea began testing its nuclear capabilities, experts have debated whether explosions at Punggye-ri could trigger another volcanic eruption.