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History of Korean explorers in Antarctica

Posted January. 17, 2018 08:47,   

Updated January. 17, 2018 09:14


The icebreaker Araon has become a milestone in the history of Korea’s Antarctica research. Araon can navigate through the sea ice as thick as 1 meter at 30km/h. It was developed in 2003 when then President Roh Moo-hyun ordered to invest 108 billion won to make Korea’s first icebreaker. Behind the birth of Araon was the death of a 27-year-old researcher. A Korean research boat was on its way back to the South Pole from Chile, where it dropped off a researcher returning home after completing his mission. But due to extreme blizzard, the boat capsized. Upon hearing the news, another boat came to the rescue of the boat. During the rescue mission, researcher Jeon Jae-kyu died when his boat capsized as well.

Korea’s second research base Jang Bogo Station was constructed in 2014, following the construction of King Sejong Station in 1988. Even though Korea joined the Antarctic Treaty at the last minute, it became the 10th country to have more than two stations in the South Pole. Only a few countries in Asia, including Korea, Japan, China and India, have research stations in Antarctica. The Korean government reviewed constructing an airstrip on the bedrock near the Jang Bogo Station when the Korea Polar Research Institute requested building an airstrip to join the ranks of “the world’s top 10 nations that are leading the research in Antarctica.” But the plan was canceled in 2016 due to cost issues.

Namkyong Construction CEO Lee Dong-ha set foot on Antarctica in 1985 as a member of two groups of Antarctic expedition. He was a safety manager for the construction of King Sejong Station and was among the first group of researchers who stayed at the station during the winter time. Also he was the head of the construction team for the Jang Bogo Station in 2014. His love for Antarctica is shown in the name of his company Namkyong, which means the capital of Antarctica in Korean. He jumped into the icy cold Antarctic waters only wearing a diving suit when he first explored Antarctica with the captain Yoon Seok-sun 33 years ago.

According to the Antarctic Treaty, no country can claim a territorial sovereignty in Antarctica until 2048. It is only natural that countries with more infrastructures in Antarctica and more achievement in research will have greater influence. It would have cost the Korean government 50 billion won to build an airstrip near the Jang Bogo Station. But we only need a hangar as we do not use airstrip every day. Or we could first build an airstrip and then lend it to other countries when we do not use it. It takes six hours from New Zealand to Antarctica by plane but nine days by icebreaker (It cost 60 million won a day for fuel). Making investments into Antarctica is for the sake of our future generations as it is a rich repository of natural resources. We should not be short-sighted and hesitate about investing in Antarctica.