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Scientists from around the world converge on Okinawa to discuss ocean research

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-02-14

Scientists from around the world gathered at the Ginowan Convention Center last week from February 2 until February 7, for the 'Fourth International Scientific Symposium'. The conference was one of many occurring throughout 1998 in many different countries, as part of the United Nations' "Year of the Ocean" initiatives. The theme for last week's symposium was "Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development", which was broken into four separate areas of research - physics, geology, chemistry, and biology. Scientists were able to give lectures on the results of many different research projects they completed in their respective fields. Some of the many studies included "Tide and Natural Oscillation in the Gulf of Thailand", "Impact of additional Feeding in Coral Reef Fish", and "Oceanographic Observations in the Seasonal Sea Ice Zone". Reports were given by scientists from such diverse places as Russia, India, and Korea. There were also many scientists present from mainland Japan and Okinawa.

This year's symposium was organized by the Ministry of Education, Sciences, Sports and Culture, University of the Ryukyus, Ocean Research Institute, and the University of Tokyo. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which is a commission under UNESCO, is the main supporter of the conference. The IOC is responsible for the promotion and development of marine science all over the world.

One of the keynote speeches addressed the creation of the "Global Ocean Observing System". The system enables different nations to conduct joint scientific experiments and share important data. It encourages the combination of efforts from many different fields and backgrounds of marine science. Scientists showed much enthusiasm at the recent increase in scientific cooperation among the international community, and are optimistic about future large scale global experiments, which they hope will help predict climatic changes and other important environmental behavior patterns.

Among the many scientists and researchers from the University of the Ryukyus that attended the symposium, was Dr. Masaaki Kimura Ph.D., who gave a presentation on "Sea Level Change and Recent Crustal Movement in the Ryukyu Arc". His research shows the different conditions in sea level fluctuations, which have occurred during part of the earth's long history. Kimura was able to investigate, what is believed to be, submerged ruins from an ancient civilization, which supports the theory that there were land bridges extending from China through Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands, up to Honshu, Japan. The site is located off the coast of Yonaguni, under approximately 30 meters of ocean. It resembles a giant castle, such as one of the many 'gusuku' ruins presently located on Okinawa. Through carbon testing and other geophysical experiments, it was determined that the sea level was 100 meters lower 20,000 years ago. "The rise in sea level can be explained by two main factors - eustatic movement of the post-ice age, and crustal movement," said Kimura.

The University professor, who was also the co-chairman of the local organizing committee, explained that his research can also be applicable to current problems the scientific community is trying to understand and solve. "Today everyone is concerned with global warming. Increases in CO2 is causing the sea level to rise. In the past there were fluctuations in sea level, so if we know the past conditions, we can estimate the future," stated Kimura.

He has investigated other submerged sites around the Ryukyu Island Archipelago that he believes were also not made by natural forces. One such site exists off the coast of the Kerama islands, and consists of several stone circles forming a circular configuration. Kimura has even met with the world famous free diver Jaque Mayol, who has visited Okinawa on several occasions, and is himself very intrigued by underwater Asian ruins.

Kimura and his colleagues expressed their delight over the chance to share their findings, and also meet with other scientists to discuss many aspects of scientific ocean studies. It is definitely believed that more international conferences, like the International Scientific Symposium, will occur in the future. They are becoming increasingly necessary, as we find that international cooperation is imperative to creating a balance between development and saving our fragile environment.

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