SEOUL, May 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's first icebreaker will explore Canada's Arctic Ocean to check offshore permafrost regions and the sea-floor for gas hydrate reserves, the government said Tuesday.
The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said it reached an understanding with Canada to conduct joint research in the Beaufort Sea within the North American country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The sea is a marginal body of water in the Arctic Ocean that lies north of the Northwest Territories and west of Canada's Arctic Islands.
The Araon, a 7,487-ton icebreaker, will check the region for gas hydrates found deep at sea or in offshore permafrost layers. It will also examine the effects of the release of methane gas on the environment.
Gas hydrates are a semisolid mixture of methane gas and water molecules created through a combination of water pressure and cold temperatures.
"Exact details have to be worked out with Canada, but the Araon should begin exploration in the summer of 2013," a official said. Past studies indicated the Arctic Ocean area may hold 25 percent of the world's untapped crude oil and natural gas deposits.
The official said by South Korea taking part in the joint research, it could allow local companies to play a role in development if Ottawa opts to develop the fossil fuel resources within its EEZ.
Sources said Seoul has been pushing for a joint study of the region since 2008, but had not previously made any headway.
The ship, launched in 2009 is equipped with various oceanographic, geophysical and arctic environment laboratories. It has an range of 37,000 kilometers, or about 70 days, before it needs to refuel or resupply, and is designed to sail through sheet ice up to 1 meter thick at 5.5 kilometers per hour.