The farmland is barely noticed by tourists as they drive between Seogwipo City and World Cup Stadium near Oedolgae. Even many Seogwipo residents could not tell you where Hanon is. Nevertheless, in this farmland lies the largest maar crater in the Korean peninsula. There will be a symposium on Nov. 26 at the Jeju International Convention Center to raise international awareness about the significance of the crater and to discuss how to restore it.
Dr. Lee Suk Chang, president of JAYEONJEJU: Jeju Cultural Heritage Committee, is a key player in the effort to get this previously unnoticed area recognized and protected by national and local governments. This will be the first time in human history to attempt to restore a 50,000-year-old crater.
Maar craters The Hanon Maar is often passed by, but it is massive. It shares a place with the famed Mt. Baekdu in North Korea, and Nari in Ulleung Island as craters with more than a 1,000-meter radius. Originally, the crater had a lake, possibly six meters deep with a few beautiful islets jutting out of the center.
This crater is unique compared to other volcanic craters due to the fact that it is the only maar type crater in South Korea. Instead of being formed by a caldera, a bowl shaped crater formed after the giving way of land after the explosion, maar craters are created by the meeting of the magma and underground water, amplifying the magnitude of the explosion and forming sedimentary layers on the side of the eruption site.
▲ Dr. Lee Suk Chang. Photo by Yang Ho Geun
Scientific interest Marr craters are scientifically significant on account of varved sediments. Varved sediments are yearly deposited layers of materials including organic material such as pollen.
“Maars have an extraordinary preservation ability, like a refrigerator, which has made it able to keep pollens in their original form inside the maar,” Lee explained. “What’s unique is that all kinds of organic matter fall into all kinds of craters, but only maars can preserve them.”
As these distinct, varved layers accumulate, the result is similar to tree rings, giving a clear and detailed historical record for every year of its existence. The record in the Hanon Crater ranges from 42,000 to 68,000 years.
The historic record that these varved sediments preserve is particularly valuable to the wealth of scientific knowledge due to its location on Jeju Island. Jeju lies at the crossroads of the climates of Japan, Korea, and China. This convergence allows the Hanon Maar to contain a history of the climate for the entire Northeast Asian region.
“By studying the varved sediments, you can know how each part of the region was in terms of climate and biological abundance. [Due to its location, the Hanon Maar] is crucial to the study of climatology of both the ancient and the future.”
Environment and conservation The biggest concern is that these valuable varved sediments will be disturbed or destroyed with development in the crater. The damage first began 500-600 years ago, when a notch was cut out of the walls of one of the craters.
“They took water out for irrigation and farming. Therefore [the crater lake] became a wetland and plants started to grow on it. As a result, 2.4 meters of the varved sediments accounting for about 6,000 years has already been lost or disturbed.”
As of yet, very few researchers have studied the crater. Before any major development plans are realized, Lee says, “At least we need to investigate this crater for its uniqueness and value.”
The crater is so large, that currently there is an entire village resting in the crater. However, Lee doesn’t believe that this is the primary problem. It’s a common procedure for the government to compensate the locals for relocation. Unfortunately, the government cannot compensate as well as big businesses that might want to move in.
The biggest difficulty for Lee is to get the local and national governments involved.
“The Korean national government is not recognizing the Hanon Maar for its significance. Currently it’s only Jeju that’s promoting this, but Jeju lacks the scientific technology and the finance to successfully do this. That’s why the Jeju government is associating with IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in order to make environmental movements to persuade the Korean government to take note of this and assist in the restoration process.”
“The main thing now is that because the government is completely unaware of this crater, the first thing we’re doing is having this international symposium to raise awareness.”
Lee says that he wants this land to be a sustainable and preservable asset to Jeju and not to hold anything like a baseball stadium or hotel, which is immediate and commercial.
“There’s a 50,000-year-old Ballantine’s whiskey bottle buried under there.”
Interpretation by Chris J. Park
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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