Terra Australis: A New icebreaker and a New Expedition for China’s Polar research

Terra Australis: A New icebreaker and a New Expedition for China’s Polar research
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The same day that China successfully achieved its first orbital rendezvous, the country launched the last 3rd of November 2011, a 157 days polar expedition to the Antarctic.

According to the Australian Age.com: “China’s interest in Antarctica has developed rapidly in the past decade. Two of its three bases are in the Australian Antarctic Territory, and there is a record of growing co-operation on scientific research. Beijing also has an eye on the vast protein bank of Antarctic krill, this summer beginning a five-year marine survey project using two ships.”

The Madrid protocol to the Antarctic Treaty is seen as a global benchmark for ecosystem management, imposing rules so strict that, for example, all huskies had to leave the continent.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the ‘Madrid Protocol’) was negotiated as other countries followed suit and on 14 January 1998 it entered into force.The Madrid Protocol bans all mining in Antarctica, designating the continent as a ‘natural reserve devoted to peace and science’. The protocol is explicit about minerals. It forbids “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research”. This ban can’t be revisited until at least 2048 — or 50 years after the protocol came into force.

As for space, setting its presence in Antarctica is a long term strategy for China and we are witnessing its steady progress.

icebreaker Xuelong at the Tianjin Port as it began a 157-day expedition to the Antarctic. Zhou Wei / for China Daily

China Daily: “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.

Video: January 2011 – China´s 27th Antarctic expedition ends CCTV News

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.”

Photo Credits: First morning in Antarctica By HamishM / FlickR