China's newest high-tech icebreaker, whose name is yet to be announced, will join its sister ship Xuelong (“Snow Dragon”, above) in providing China with a state-of-the-art polar exploration presence. The new icebreaker can carry up to 60 scientists and 8,000 tons of equipment while churning its way through through ice up to 1.5 meters (nearly 5 ft) thick.
“China will have at least two icebreakers concurrently operating at both the north and south poles,” explained Chen Lianzeng, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration. Chen also stated the two ships would eventually be sailing on expeditions through polar waters for more than 200 days each year.
Over the past 30-odd years, China has quietly established a “boots on the ground” presence at either end of the Earth. To date, the country has sent 27 expedition teams to Antarctica and conducted 4 successful research missions to the Arctic Ocean.
Some of those expeditions included the building and provisioning of permanent manned stations: the Huanghe (Yellow River) Station in the far north and 3 stations in Antarctica - Changcheng (Great Wall), Zhongshan and Kunlun.
With the launch of the new icebreaker, expected to be sometime in 2013, these distant outposts could receive visits more often. Important science will be conducted en route as well.
The ship “will boast facilities that will allow it to research the oceanic environment,” according to Chen Lianzeng, as well as “integrate data for real-time oceanic monitoring, deploy and retrieve detectors and conduct aerial studies using helicopters.”
Scientific pursuits aside, China's push for a polar presence gives the country a ringside seat at what may be the 21st century's penultimate global showdown: the scramble for resources in the wake of global warming. Deploying icebreakers now may serve China well in a warmer future after the ice melts. (via People's Daily Online, MilitaryPhotos.net, Brisbane Times, and FYJS.cn)