Korea’s interest in Antarctica first began in the late 1970s when it undertook exploratory krill surveys in the Antarctic Oceans. Ever since it joined the Antarctic Treaty as a consultative party in 1986, the Republic of Korea has strived to become a fully-fledged member of the Antarctic community. In July 1990, it was accredited as a full member of SCAR. Korea continues to be an active participant in various international organizations and fora, such as the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM), the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), SCAR, and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP). Korea has also put efforts into building a foundation for cooperative research activities in the Asian region by providing the initial momentum for the organization of the Asian Forum for Polar Sciences (AFoPS) in 2004.
The Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), as a government sponsored research organization under the umbrella of the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries of Korea, is the lead agency to conduct and coordinate the Korean Antarctic as well as Arctic Research Programs, which includes logistical support.
The infrastructure operated by KOPRI includes two permanent Antarctic research stations and an icebreaking research vessel. King Sejong Station was inaugurated in 1988 and Jang Bogo Station has been active since 2014. The icebreaking research vessel, RV Araon, was constructed and commissioned in late 2009 and has been conducting supply and research missions, spending nearly 300 days away at sea per year.
To address safety concerns about the outworn facilities and to further elevate the quality of research support, KOPRI is currently in the process of repairing and reconstructing the King Sejong Station.
Some of KOPRI’s research is aimed and undertaken to demonstrate its commitment as a responsible member of the Antarctic community, for example to facilitate the management of and utilize the scientific value of ASPAs (Antarctic Specially Protected Areas) and MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), and to deal with the issue of alien species in the Antarctic such as a the non-native fly found in some of the stations on King George Island.
Over the last three decades, Korea’s polar research activities and research fields have expanded rapidly. The scope of KOPRI’s Antarctic research encompasses core areas such as marine and terrestrial observation and prediction, paleoenvironmental reconstruction, biodiversity and adaptation of polar organisms. Through ceaseless efforts on these core research areas, KOPRI is attempting to respond to global issues and explore prospects for the future. A few key examples of KOPRI’s Antarctic research projects are as follows:
- The Antarctic Korean Route Expedition and Development of Technologies for Deep Ice Coring and Hot Water Drilling: The KOPRI research team is putting its efforts into developing the “Korean Route”, a safe and reliable route to approach inland Antarctica for research. The project also aims to develop Hot Water Drill and Deep Ice Core Drilling, and cutting-edge technology for microbiology, glaciology and geochemistry.
- Ocean-to-Ice Interactions in Amundsen Sea: To estimate the short-term trend of the ice-shelf retreat and freshwater discharge, the KOPRI research team conducts field observations on the Amundsen ice mass. With the data obtained from the observations, the study will evaluate the imminent impact on ocean processes caused by ice-shelf melting.
- Reconstruction of the Antarctic ice sheet and ocean history for the past two million years: To reconstruct past changes in cryosphere-ocean-climate and understand ice sheet stability in the Antarctic, the KOPRI research team conducts analyses of sedimentary records. The outcome of the project is expected to expand our knowledge on the Antarctic since the Last Glacial Maximum, reconstruct Pleistocene paleoceanographic/paleoclimatic changes in the Antarctic, and explore relevant climate indicators.
- Investigation for the cause of east-west different climate responses in Antarctica: By investigating the sensitivity of Antarctic climate change and understanding the cause of the regional differences in sea ice surface temperature, the project aims to contribute to future projections of sea ice change and increased predictability in weather conditions.
- Modeling responses of terrestrial organisms to environmental changes on King George Island: In order to predict ecosystem changes on King George Island, this project applies a biological response modelling technology to the Antarctic Peninsula as well as other regions, including the Korean Peninsula. In so doing, the project aims to develop a prototype model to predict biological responses to changing environments, and develop a database system for the Antarctic Near-Shore and Terrestrial Observation System (ANTOS) and Linking of Antarctic Peninsula Ecosystem Sciences (LAPES).
- Genome analysis of polar organisms and establishment of application platform (Polar Genomics 101 Project): This project aims to provide understanding of genomic properties and develop useful genomic resources from polar organisms. Through this project, Polar-specific environment adaptation mechanisms will be identified and model transformants with useful target genes are to be developed from polar organisms.
These scientific research endeavours are conducted in the form of 13 in-house projects and 7 national Research and Development projects. In addition, KOPRI has operated the Polar Academic Program (PAP) since 2010 to provide research funds to Korean universities that proposed creative themes for polar research, and has launched the Polar Industrial Program (PIP) to enhance its cooperation with industries. These programs are expected to vitalize polar research and nurture specialists.