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South Korea's icebreaker 'Araon' returns from expedition to North Pole
Updated: 2021-10-18 05:57:35 KST
"Just a few weeks ago, a team of South Korean experts returned from an 85-day trip to the North Pole. I'm here at the Korea Polar Research Institute to meet the researchers in Songdo."

"We've been researching and constantly monitoring the changes in the Arctic Ocean for 12 years. We are also studying atmospheric changes. In order to know the current trends in climate change, these changes must be observed over a long period."

Hong was one of the scientists who recently came back from a 3-month expedition to the North Pole.
During the trip, researchers conducted simultaneous ozone observations at both poles.
The observations were done by hanging equipment on helium balloons.

"Everyone knows that there is an ozone hole over Antarctica. But even in the Arctic, ozone levels are gradually decreasing. That's why it's important to monitor ozone concentrations in the Arctic as well. If you do it at the same time, you can observe how ozone changes at the South and North Poles at the same time. So I think it's significant."

The scientists also succeeded in capturing the flow of methane gas from the seabed of the East Siberian Sea.
The methane bubbles found in this area are a powerful greenhouse gas.
Since 2016, the Korea Polar Research Institue, or KOPRI for short, has been tracing the source of the bubbles.

"This year, we've put a lot of effort into finding areas that specifically emit methane. We've confirmed where the methane bubbles are rising from. We've sampled water, sediment and gases, and they are currently being analyzed."

South Korea is also collaborating with international researchers.

"What I've been working on with them is mostly related to my specialty related to ice modeling. We're looking at Thwaites glacier which is a very big glacier in the region of Antarctica we know is unstable."

KOPRI says its advances in polar research have been accelerated by the introduction of its research vessel, the "Araon".

"Before there was the "Araon", we had to borrow someone else's vessel or join another research program. Now that we have our own ship, we can carry out the research for various scientific purposes."

The "Araon" is South Korea's first and only icebreaker ship.
It's specially designed to navigate across icy waters,… allowing it to sail through areas where ordinary ships can't,… including the polar regions.
The icebreaker first set sail in 2009.
And since then, it's been carrying researchers and supplies to research bases,… and has become an important part of South Korea's polar research.

The vessel,… which is 111 meters long, 19 meters wide, and weighs more than 7,500 tons,… has many characteristics that make it special.
The "Araon" rises above the ice sheet to break the ice using its own weight.
Two propellers at the back push the broken pieces of ice far away to prevent them from freezing again near the vessel.
If the "Araon" gets stuck in the middle of an ice sheet, the "ice-heeling system" shakes the vessel to the left and right to help it escape.
And unlike how most ships are shaped in the front, it has a sharper, sloping bow,… and an ice knife underneath to help break the ice.
It's also structurally stronger with outer walls three times thicker than ordinary ships.

The "Araon" sails more than 300 days a year,… spending more than 200 days in the Antarctic and 70 in the Arctic.
The vessel takes two breaks in between the long journeys,… once in summer, and once in October.

"I was lucky enough to come to Gwangyang port, on the southern tip of Korea,… to get a look inside the "Araon"".

There are ten research labs inside the icebreaker.
Scientists send research equipment into the sea and collect samples to bring to the labs for analysis.

"We manage the research equipment installed on the "Araon" and make sure that it operates smoothly so that we can obtain the best data."

"This is where the researchers sleep and rest. There's a bed, a TV, and a shower room.enough to keep them comfy for the trip."

"There are a lot of people on board, and if they get injured we can take action immediately."

People can also exercise in the fitness center with an ocean view.

"When the weather is nice, people say it's very cool and refreshing if they open the window."

"You buy snacks in bulk before you set off and eat them for months?"

"Yes."

Another key spot of the "Araon" is the helipad.
The "Araon" can carry its own helicopter,… and many experts have found this very useful.

"KOPRI is bringing one of the teams that's in the Thwaites project, the ITGC, International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration…. The helicopter access from the "Araon" is key to what they're going to attempt to do because the area is quite dangerous frankly and you need to be able to land on a spot that's safe…"

The contributions made by KOPRI are being acknowledged globally, despite it being a relatively late starter to the field of polar research.

"I think the ice breaker to a large extent is important in terms of making KOPRI more and more important. I think if we look at many important projects like Thwaites Glacier international collaboration, if we look at other big international collaborations KOPRI is now in all of them because they have the expertise, they have the instruments, and again they have lots of very talented researchers.


South Korea's researchers are currently busy as they are gearing up for their next journey, this time heading south.
"The "Araon" will take off to Antarctica next week, where experts on board will spend the next six months observing how climate change is affecting the polar region.
Choi Min-jung, Arirang News, Yeosu."
Reporter : minjchoi@arirang.com