Icebreaker helps push polar goals

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-22 07:53
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BEIJING - A new icebreaker will be launched in 2013 to bolster China's polar research activities as the nation endeavors to become a major player in such scientific expeditions, a top Chinese oceanic official said on Tuesday.

The country currently has one such vessel, Xuelong or Snow Dragon, that conducts polar scientific expeditions. She was purchased from Ukraine in 1993.

"The launch of the new icebreaker means China will have at least two such vessels for Arctic and Antarctic expeditions at the same time," said Chen Lianzeng, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA). He made the comments at a polar expedition conference on Tuesday.

"The new icebreaker will work at least 200 days a year when it is put into service in 2013," he said.

Chinese shipbuilders will begin construction of the vessel this year. Once finished, it will be capable of breaking through ice that is up to 1.5 meters thick and have the ability to travel 18,000 nautical miles at a time. The new ship will carry up to 90 people, the SOA announced in 2009.

Chen said 30 years of unrelenting effort means China has been catching up to other countries and Beijing has established a scientific platform for polar expeditions, including "one vessel and four stations". The four stations are named Changcheng, Zhongshan and Kunlun in the Antarctic and Yellow River in the Arctic. There is also a domestic base for polar investigations in Shanghai.

Many countries have attached great importance to polar scientific expeditions because of the likelihood of rich resources in the largely unexplored regions.

As the planet's largest "icehouse", the Antarctic icecap accounts for 70 percent of the Earth's freshwater resources. It is also estimated that the Arctic has 30 percent of the world's undiscovered gas supplies and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil.

"International competition has grown in promoting the peaceful utilization of polar resources in recent years," Xu Shaoshi, minister of land and resources, said on Tuesday. "As a big, developing country, China should take part in more polar activities through cooperation or independent exploration in the future."

During the coming five years, the country will focus on research and expeditions exploring polar environmental changes to better comprehend the impact of global climate change.

Also, the country intends to conduct research into possible polar resources, including oil, gas and biological resources.

"Polar research is of great significance to promote sustainable economic development. China has made great achievements in polar research during the past 20 years and we should continue to participate in the endeavour and peacefully utilize polar resources through cooperation with other countries," said Vice-Premier Li Keqiang when commenting on the polar expedition conference.

China launched its first expedition to Antarctica in 1984. By 2011, the country had carried out 27 Antarctic expeditions and it successfully organized four Arctic scientific expeditions - in 1999, 2003, 2008 and 2010.

China Daily

(China Daily 06/22/2011 page4)