Foggy Outlook at Incheon Airport

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Foggy Outlook at Incheon Airport

A famous Korean novelist, Kim Seung-ok, portrayed a city covered with a white mist and shimmering views in his short work, "Journey to Mujin." But when a fog sets in an airport, operation are paralyzed despite the dreamy and charming mood. Incheon International Airport, scheduled to be launched in a month, encountered an unexpected and serious problem of sea fog. The cause was reportedly found to be that the difference in nighttime and daytime temperatures has been raised because the environment was changed by reclaiming 56.1 million square meters of land area and covering the newly created land with asphalt.

Nature often responds in unexpected ways to changes created by humans. Let us look into the case of vanishing sandy beaches in the United States. As global warming triggers a sea level rise, every year on average two to three feet of seashore along the Atlantic Ocean is submerged. To counter such changes, waterfront cities started building breakwaters. What comes next? Because of breakwaters, sandy beaches disappeared. Orrin H. Pilkey, a geologist at Duke University, compared the size in area of 20 beaches along the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1980s. His research revealed that the seashore areas where breakwaters had been built were largely reduced compared to the ones with no breakwaters. For example, there used to be a 300 foot-wide beach in front of enormous breakwaters in Sea Bright, New Jersey. Today, we see nothing but the seawater in front of the breakwaters.

The reason is rather simple. On shorelines with gentle slopes, tides expend a large part of their energy on their way back to the ocean, but break waters disturb that process. The tides smash into the breakwaters and are reflected, eroding more sand from the beach. Stephen P. Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at the University of Maryland said that building breakwaters is like bidding farewell to the beaches in front of them.

Without sandy beaches, waterfront resorts have a difficult time staying in business. That is why Maine and North Carolina established laws forbidding the building any new permanent solid structures on their seashores in order to conserve their sandy beaches. Beaches in Miami have already been refilled with sand during the 1980s at a cost of $65 million. Keeping sand on beaches may only be a matter of money, in some cases.

But what are we going to do with Incheon International Airport, which might be repeatedly paralyzed due to the perennial problem of fog? I can not stop thinking about the lesson already learned from the failed attempt of desalinating the seawater of Sihwa Lake.

by Cho Hyun-wook

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