• Updated : 2022.5.27 금 10:21
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The Importance of the Coastal Environment
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승인 2022.03.18  17:38:01
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▲ Kim Tae-hoon, Associate Professor, Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences

The Earth’s environment has been unusually stable for the last 10,000 years. Due to the environmental stability of this period known as Holocene, human civilizations have been thriving. However, increases in the world population and human activities with the advent of industrialization are now threatening such stability, leading to a new era, the Anthropocene. Anthropocene sees human actions push the Earth’s system out of its environmental stability, altering the atmosphere, ocean, land, ice cover, ecosystems and the distribution of species over the planet. A significant concern is that the resultant changes are irreversible and getting faster at unprecedented rates – even catastrophic for large parts of the world. Therefore, these changes in the Earth’s environmental systems and many types of local, regional, and global responses to the changes can alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life and our society’s vitality.

It is the consensus of the scientific community that the anthropogenic greenhouse gases have significantly contributed to global warming. The scientific community, who are experts when it comes to climate, recently realized that the rehabilitation of global temperatures will take as much as 1000 years after the complete cessation of carbon emission, even with the ongoing mitigation efforts to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. The long recovery is due to the ocean’s slow thermal response and the long residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere. Continued escalation in the emission of greenhouse gases, therefore, may result in irreparable changes in our environments and ecosystems, which accordingly will affect entire aspects of our lives.

The coastal zone is located in the interface of land-ocean-atmosphere and is naturally very dynamic since climatic factors and chemical species in the three compartments are interplaying with each other (i.e., typhoons, tsunamis, pollution, biodiversity, sea-level changes, eutrophication, etc.). In addition, about half of the earth’s population is concentrated in coastal zones, causing the most active human-caused alterations (i.e., water resources, eutrophication, erosion, land uses, artificial constructions such as a dam, tidal flat morphology, pollution, etc.).

The importance of coastal zones should be more emphasized in South Korea, fully surrounded by the ocean except the political interface with North Korea. The west coast is interfaced by a tidal flat which is one of the largest tidal flats in the world and opens to the Yellow Sea. The south coast is characterized ria coastline, having many semi-enclosed bays where a heavy load of terrestrial pollutants have produced severe environmental and ecological problems including red tides. The eastern coast of Korea is very steep, rocky, and opens directly to the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which is called a miniature version of the world’s oceans. In addition, Jeju Island, a volcanic island, standing in the oligotrophic ocean, provides a unique environment for monitoring the exchange of terrestrial and marine air/aerosols (Gosan Superstation) and for studying the responses of disproportionally large submarine groundwater discharge in the ocean. In the coastal zones in Korea, more than half of the pollution is concentrated, including five mega cities and a number of industries, agricultural, and aqua-cultural farms. Among the many fields of earth and environmental sciences, coastal studies in Korea are not only critical for a sustainable living environment but also ideal for looking at various natural and artificial feedback processes of water and chemical species.

By Kim Tae-hoon, Associate Professor, Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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