When most people go hiking they never really think of the northern part of South Korea, right next to if not on the Korean Demilitarized Zone or the DMZ, as the place to do so. But both the US Army and the Republic of Korea, ROK, Army tend to do that quite a bit. One of the main concerns faced by soldiers on the DMZ is not just the threat looming next door, in North Korea, but the soils. That’s right, the soils.
Unfortunately, the soils around the DMZ contain far more than rock, organic matter and random debris. Sadly, the soils often harbor landmines, and other surprises left over from the Korean War. This, in combination with the type of soils found around the DMZ, known as brown earth, and the weather patterns in the Korean peninsula makes for rather dangerous conditions. The brown earth soil tends to leach clay and other minerals as well as becoming easily saturated and slippery, thus allowing for the monsoon season rains to wash out mountain sides and move debris, such as landmines, to the surface of the soil.
Several areas around the DMZ, and in it, are known to contain unexploded ordinance but every monsoon season soldiers take a chance because of the movement of the unstable soil. Landslides, washouts, and other similar events are also prevalent in the Korean mountains.
So, it’s interesting to think about just how soils influence our environment and how deadly they can be, whether that is because of human intervention or because they can cause natural disasters on their own. Respect and caution should be used when dealing with the earth.
References and Further Reading
Brown Earth in Japan: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00380768.1988.10415670
Brown Earth in Europe: https://bantrygeography.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/brown-earth-soil1.pdf
Written by Kristina B. Hartley, UIUC, SWCS Treasurer