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S. Korea's icebreaker embarks on Antarctic mission to explore ice shelf melting

2018/03/27 09:55

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SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's icebreaker began an Antarctic mission Tuesday to explore a melting ice shelf and study its impact on climate change and the ecosystem, the operator of the science vessel said.

The Araon left the southern New Zealand port town of Lyttelton to sail for the Larsen C ice shelf to examine the melting speed of the iceberg there, the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) said.

The Larsen C ice shelf is the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica, spanning an area of about 55,000 square kilometers, half the size of South Korea.

Unlike thin layers of sea ice, ice shelves are floating masses of ice that can be hundreds of meters thick.

The Southern Ocean region produces about three-quarters of the nutrients that sustain life in the rest of the world's oceans. The region is also home to most of the world's penguins and whales.

The Larsen C ice shelf began melting in July last year, shedding about 5,000 square meters of an iceberg named "A-68," a KOPRI researcher said.

The Araon and its crew will be one of the first to explore the ice shelf, as a joint team made up of scientists from the United States and Chile failed to reach the shelf in February due to icebergs.

South Korean researchers will join U.S. and Chilean colleagues to explore the shelf.

Seoul has two scientific research stations near the South Pole -- the King Sejong and the Jang Bogo -- and another one named the Dasan close to the North Pole. All three centers are named after Korean historical figures.

Commissioned in 2009, the 111-meter-long and 19-meter-wide research vessel weighing 7,487 tons can accommodate scores of crew and researchers and can cut through 1-meter-thick ice.

It has served as a key player in South Korea's oceanic research, joining a number of international research projects shuttling between the poles of the Earth as its name suggests. The Korean word "ara" means sea, and "on" alludes to being all over the world.

Equipped with cutting-edge scientific equipment, it is called a "floating lab."

   It can detect underwater geological features through a multichannel seismic system, an acoustic synchronizer, a precision depth recorder, a marine gravity meter and a marine magnetometer, among a package of information-collecting and analytical devices. A submersible and a helicopter can be deployed to support the crew as they carry out their work.

This photo provided by the Korea Polar Research Institute on July 21, 2017, shows South Korea's icebreaker, Araon, conducting research operations. (Yonhap) This photo provided by the Korea Polar Research Institute on July 21, 2017, shows South Korea's icebreaker, Araon, conducting research operations. (Yonhap)

hdh@yna.co.kr

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