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中国日报(2011.11.04):New icebreaker to improve China's polar research
2011-11-07     | 【】【打印】【关闭

 Upgrade of the old vessel, Xuelong, is on the cards: Officials

TIANJIN - As China's new icebreaker readies to set sail in 2014, the country might conduct expeditions to the North Pole every year in the near future, a senior official said.

The new icebreaker will improve China's capability in polar research, joining the older icebreaker, Xuelong, on China's Arctic and Antarctic research vessel, Li Yuansheng, deputy director of the Polar Research Institute of China and leader of the 28th Antarctic research expedition, told China Daily.

Li and his team started China's 28th Antarctic research expedition from Tianjin on Thursday.

Having only one icebreaker has always been a disadvantage in conducting the country's polar expeditions, especially when it comes to exploring the Arctic.

Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, confirmed at an earlier news conference that although China has carried out 27 Antarctic expeditions since 1984, there have been only four Arctic expeditions, as Xuelong used to be China's only icebreaker.

The new icebreaker will greatly enhance the scientific research ability in future polar expeditions, especially in the ocean area, Qu added.

China plans to launch five Antarctic research expeditions and three Arctic expeditions from this year until 2015. Compared with Arctic expeditions since 1999, the country's North Pole expedition plan during the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) has dramatically increased.

Apparently the coming debut of the icebreaker will play an important role in accelerating China's pace in exploring the North Pole.

The new icebreaker with an estimated investment of 1.25 billion yuan ($2 million) can push through sea ice of more than 1.5-meter depth with 0.2-meter snow covering and its cruising radius reached 20,000 nautical miles, Li said.

After setting sail, the new icebreaker will conduct scientific research in ocean exploration and Xuelong will focus on delivering supplies, scientific research equipment and people to the polar stations, he added.

Qu said the new icebreaker will attract foreign scientists to participate in China's polar scientific research, strengthening China's capabilities in polar research expeditions.

"More icebreakers will be built in the long term," Qu said.

Xuelong is due for a technological upgrade in 2013 at an estimated cost of 200 to 300 million yuan, thus extending its service life to another 15 to 20 years, Huang Rong, the chief engineer of Xuelong, told China Daily.

Xuelong was purchased from Ukraine in 1993, and has a service life span of about 30 years. It has completed 27 research or supply expeditions to the Antarctic and three to the Arctic.

"Currently, Xuelong has only one engine and once it stops working potential danger will threaten lives on board, especially when passing the westerlies," Huang said, adding that after the upgrade the icebreaker will have two engines.

Besides enhancing the shipping capacity, planes that can fly in extreme climatic conditions will be bought and put to use in the next one or two years, Qu said.

"This will deepen the international cooperation in polar expedition and play a crucial role in emergency rescue," Qu explained.

Introduction of planes will help speed up the construction of China's aviation network in polar areas, Li said.

FIRST PERSON  LI ZHIGANG

Of bears and a birthday

Editor's note: Li Zhigang is a research professor with the State Key Laboratory of Robotics at the Shenyang Institute of Automation, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

When the vessel entered the Arctic Circle, the whole world suddenly turned white.

It was eight years ago, but I can still vividly remember the excitement when I traveled with the Arctic scientific expedition team in 2003.

It was only the second time China had ever sent a team there, and the first one using a drone that can work under water on the Xuelong research ship.

I was in charge of testing and operating the equipment, designed by the Shenyang Institute of Automation. Actually I spent most of my time doing other jobs: looking out for polar bears, fixing machines for other people and carrying heavy instruments as other scientists conducted experiments.

More than 100 experts were on the boat, ranging from those in glaciology, meteorology and biology to geophysics and environmental sciences. We were like a big family; everyone shouldered equal responsibility.

To cope with the dangers, each research mission was given a time limit, and people who did not have experiments to conduct had to help others who did. For example, I'm good at dealing with machines, so people come to me when their equipment doesn't work. A geographer may understand how to use his equipment, but he may not be so clear about how to fix it.

One of the most common jobs was watching out for bears.

Once a group of meteorological researchers were conducting experiments on a piece of floating ice when a polar bear approached. "Run," we shouted. One of them almost fell into an ice hole, which could have killed him. The five team members rushed into the helicopter. The pilot took off and hovered for a while until it scared the bear away.

On the second day I went back to the location to check - the bear's footprint was twice as big as mine. Scary.

All of us were taught how to use a gun before we set out, but I sometimes would take a bayonet in case I forgot how to shoot when I saw a bear.

Although each of us was from different institutes and did not know each other at the start, we built a tight relationship during the research and have since kept in touch.

I even celebrated my 33rd birthday in the North Pole.

Li Zhigang was talking to China Daily reporters Cheng Yingqi and Liu Ce.

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