From War Zone to Biosphere Reserve: The Korean DMZ as a Scientific Landscape

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The Korean DMZ—at once a war zone, a historical landscape and a living laboratory—offers a compelling example of how scientific fieldwork can alter the definition of place. This article explores how scientists introduced new layers of meaning to the region, thereby contributing to shifts in perspective about the border area and to changes in land-use policies there. As early as the mid 1960s, scientists described the DMZ as a scientifically unique and valuable place and argued for setting it aside as a nature reserve; by the late 1990s, the vision of the DMZ as a scientific landscape gained currency both within Korea and internationally and has become central to discussions about the zone's future. This article draws from published and unpublished scientific reports whose authors directly argue for assigning official conservation status to all or part of the DMZ and its border regions; it aims to demonstrate the important role scientists have played in redefining the DMZ through highlighting its environmental and scientific value. The article places these developments within the larger environmental history of Korea, suggesting links between changing emphases in environmental activism and policy-making and evolving ideas about the value and purpose of the DMZ.