China En Route to Cap Antartica

The Chinese icebreaker and research vessel Xue Long (Snow Dragon) has left the port of Shanghai on October 20 for its 25th annual expedition to Antarctica for a six-month mission that will see the construction of China’s first inland scientific research station in Antarctica, the Kunlun Station.

The station will be located on Dome A, the highest point on the Antarctic inland icecap. Kunlun will be the third Chinese Antarctic research station after The Great Wall and Zhongshan Station. The first phase of its construction will be 236 square meters, which will include living quarters, research facility and space to accommodate 20 personnel. Kunlun is scheduled for completion in January 2009 (Wen Wei Po, October 21; Sina.com.hk, October 21). There are reportedly only 28 countries in the world that have scientific research station in Antarctica, but many of them are located along the periphery, only the united States, Russia, Japan, France, Italy and Germany have stations on the Antarctic inland icecap (Sina.com.hk, October 16).

According to sources familiar with the program, the expedition is the longest and the assembled team is the largest one since China started its first Antarctic expeditions in November 1984 (Xinhua News Net, October 20). Yang Huigen, chief scientist and captain of the 25th Antarctic expedition of China, said, “We will carry out scientific exploration of the deep ice core at the newly-built base … We believe we will find high-resolution records of the planet dating back one million years” (People’s Daily, October 20). Yang added that the most important objective of the mission is to build Kunlun, which will be a significant milestone that will mark China’s contribution to the peaceful use of Antarctica region (Xinhua News Net, October 20). According to Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctica Administration (CAA) under the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), on top of building the new station there are other important missions to the expedition like renovating the Zhongshan Station and conducting 45 other scientific studies (CCTV, October 21).