South Korea has taken a big step forward in polar research with the opening of a new year-round Antarctic research base.
On Wednesday, the country celebrated the official launch of the "Jang Bogo Research Station," which is the second such facility in the region. The station was completed following a 21-month construction period. It is located in Victoria Land, the southeastern tip of Antarctica.
The unveiling of the new research base, which came 26 years after Korea opened its first research base, King Sejong Station, will make Korea the world's 10th country to operate more than one year-round research base on the southern continent.
President Park Geun-hye highlighted the importance of the new research center, saying that Antarctica was a "continent of opportunity" for future energy resources and science research.
"This is a key region that we must trailblaze to expand our science territory and resources," Park said in a video congratulatory message. Some 300 government officials and representatives participated in the opening ceremony, according to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
The Jang Bogo station, which is named after a renowned naval admiral, consists of 16 buildings, including laboratories, a powerhouse and observational facilities.
The research center can accommodate up to 60 people, and is designed to stand temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and winds of up to 65 meters per second. It also was built with eco-friendly construction materials and uses renewable energy such as solar and wind power, the ministry said.
Since 2012, the government has spent about 104.7 billion won (S$124 million) on construction of the base covering 4,458 square meters of land.
The ministry noted that the new station would focus on geographic research such as glaciology and meteorite studies, while the King Sejong base, in the western part of the Antarctic, will stay focused on maritime research.
The new base will also allow joint research with the Araon, the country's first icebreaker, according to the Korea Polar Research Institute.
"We'll be able to conduct a wide range of research in the southern polar region, thanks to the Jang Bogo research station," Kim Yea-dong, the president of the Korea Polar Research Institute, said at the base.
Korea has long been keen on exploring Antarctica, sending its first exploration team in 1978, signing the Antarctic Treaty 1986 and establishing its first research base in 1988.
About 30 nations operate permanent research stations in Antarctica including the United States, China, South Africa, Russia, Australia, and UK, France and Argentina.