Research on a rock reveals ocean’s secret

Improve maritime safety and save lives.

A team of scientists stayed on a rock despite the harsh conditions to discover more about the ocean as the data can help to save lives.  By Sunny Um, South Korea correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

By Sunny Um, South Korea correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

In 2003, the South Korean government constructed a research platform on a submerged rock, known as Socotra Rock and Ieodo in Korean to collect meteorological data, including those of water flows and typhoons near the rock.  

In July, researchers from the Ieodo station published a paper, based on their five-year observation, in the Frontiers in Marine Science journal on the best method to accurately measure ocean temperature and salinity, which is important to maritime safety as the Ieodo sits in the middle of most of the country’s incoming and outgoing sea traffic.

The people of Jeju Island call Ieodo, located 149 kilometers southwest of Marado in the Yellow Sea, the “island of fantasy” because according to legend, the spirits of fishermen who perished in rough waters resided there.  The rock is 4.6 meters below sea level and will appear when there is strong wind and high waves which allow it to break the surface.

Collecting data from the ocean

“Ieodo Ocean Research Station is constructed at a perfect location to collect meteorological data,” Dr. Do-Seong Byun, a scientist from the Ocean Research Division, Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency (KHOA), who participated in the research, told Maritime Fairtrade. 

“Observations of typhoons, sea temperatures, and salinity can all be done here.”

In the paper, the research team introduced methods of monitoring sea surface temperature, water column temperature and salinity, seawater pH, air pollutants, and solar radiation. 

For example, the team installed a thermo-graphic camera to check sea surface temperatures remotely and compared the data with the temperatures collected from thermometers at the decks. Their study found that remote observations with a thermo-graphic camera did not show much difference compared to traditional methods of temperature monitoring. 

In addition, the team found that by attaching ultraviolet light beams to salinity sensors, it can improve the accuracy of salinity data collection because ultraviolet light beams can prevent living organisms from being encrusted to the sensors thereby reducing sensitivity.

The research team at Ieodo Ocean Research Station.

Living on a rock for the sake of scientific advancement

While Dr. Byun is satisfied that the research paper is successfully published in an international journal, he said that during the data-collection and experimentation stage, it was not easy going to and living on Ieodo due to limited accessibility and the harsh environmental conditions.  

The platform has a helipad and a couple of lower decks for equipment and workspace. Although the station has residential facilities that can comfortably accommodate eight people for 15 days, the station is typically uninhabited and operated remotely.  As it was crucial for Dr. Byun and his team to be onsite, they regularly travelled to the station, with food and other relevant items, and stayed for a week or more.

“The station is located far out from the mainland,” Dr. Byun said. “When the weather is bad, it is not easy to travel to the station. It also was difficult to ask for technical assistance when we needed repairs and maintenance for our equipment.”

“One time, the weather was so bad that we could not return to the mainland after our week-long stay,” Dr. Byun said. “Therefore, our stay was extended for four more days. As the food we had prepared started to run out, we became a bit worried.”

The researchers were concerned about the maintenance of their scientific equipment as well because improved maintenance will result in optimized equipment which will give accurate and stable observation.

“As typhoons pass through the station, the equipment installed on the decks are often damaged or even destroyed,” Dr. Byun said.   “It will be better if scientists don’t have to bear with such risks and that there will be more help for a systematic maintenance service in the future.”  

Still, Dr. Byun is happy that he could be part of this project because it was a rare opportunity to learn more about the weather conditions and contribute to maritime safety and help save lives.

The research team at Ieodo Ocean Research Station.

More discovery waiting to be uncovered

“Ieodo still offer many unstudied areas,” said Dr. Byun.  “For instance, many marine organisms died in 1996. The Ieodo station studied the movements of sea currents and found that it may be due to the water coming into the ocean from the Yangtze River, which is low in salinity, moving slowly near where the organisms died.  More research has to be conducted in order to verify this theory.”

Dr. Byun hoped that marine researchers from around the world will find his research at Ieodo useful.

“We decided to submit this paper to an international journal to expose more people to our research in South Korea, which is significant in my opinion,” he said.  “We hope scientists from other countries that are thinking of something similar can learn from our experience.”

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