Icebreaker to set sail on Antarctic expedition

Updated: 2011-10-20 19:02


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TIANJIN - The Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong, or "Snow Dragon," is due to depart in November for a six-month Antarctic expedition, the vessel's 28th voyage since 1984, an official said Thursday.

Xuelong, an A2-class icebreaker capable of breaking ice 1.2 meters thick, will leave the northern port of Tianjin on November 3 with a crew of 172 to work on 31 scientific research assignments, said Qu Tanzhou, director of the polar region expedition office of the State Oceanic Administration.

The ship will also bring supplies to China's two Antarctic stations, while a team will be sent to the third station, Kunlun, which is located at the highest point on the Antarctic continent at 4,093 meters above sea level, for scientific research, Qu said.

Xuelong will cover an estimated 31,000 nautical miles over the course of the expedition and return to Shanghai in April 2012, according to Qu.

China's first automatic astronomical telescope, the AST3, will join the expedition, which is expected to make breakthroughs in many frontier research projects, including observations of supernova and exoplanets, Qu said.

"It is an unprecedented opportunity for Chinese astronomy, because of the extremely favorable environment for astronomical observations," he said.

China plans to launch five Antarctic research expeditions and three Arctic expeditions from 2011 to 2015, and researchers will focus on monitoring weather and environmental changes in polar regions.