A new icebreaker is scheduled to join Xuelong, China’s only Antarctic research vessel, in 2014, highlighting Beijing’s ambition for further exploration and scientific study in polar regions.
At a news conference in Shanghai on Sunday to mark the return of Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, from its 28th Antarctic expedition, officials said the new vessel is being designed and will undergo tests starting in two years. One Arctic expedition and two Antarctic expeditions are planned by 2015.
We are in the process of conceptual design for the new vessel and it is going smoothly, said Weng Lixin, a deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration. The new ship will be put into service in 2014.
The new vessel is more of a true icebreaker and will be more effective in exploring than Xuelong, which is partly used to deliver supplies, according to Wang Shuoren, an officer on Xuelong.
He said the new icebreaker will incorporate the most advanced technology and will be more adapted to use around polar regions. It will be designed to break through sea ice more than 1.5 meters thick, topped with 0.2 meters of snow.
According to Zhao Ping, an official with the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, China will partner with the world's leading icebreaker manufacturers in producing the vessel.
At the press conference, she said the new vessel will be designed by an overseas company and be built by a Chinese shipbuilder. We opened the bidding for the vessel's design to the world and now it has been settled, she said.
According to an earlier report, the new vessel will have a cruising radius of 20,000 nautical miles and cost about 200 million dollars.
China has been active in polar exploration and scientific research since 1984 and has built four polar research stations: Arctic Yellow River Station in Svalbard, Norway; Great Wall Station in the Shetland Islands, west Antarctica; Zhongshan Station in the Larsemann Hills, east Antarctica; and Kunlun Station, located on Dome A, the highest place in Antarctica.
In its latest expedition starting in October, Xuelong delivered supplies to the country's Antarctic stations and conducted various scientific research tasks, including a polar environmental survey and the installation of a survey telescope.
Other major achievements during the 163-day expedition were the installation of a 100-meter deflection tube for deep core drilling at Zhongshan Station and the drilling of a 120-meter ice core, catapulting China to a leading role in glaciology studies.
Officials said China plans to add two more survey telescopes on Antarctica in future.
The Xuelong was purchased to Ukraine in 1993, and was basically a supply vessel converted for polar tasks with limited capacity to operate in ice conditions.