Xuelong sets sail to study Arctic thaw

Updated: 2016-07-09 08:15

By Zhou Wenting(China Daily)

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The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong will set out for northern seas on Monday on a quest to discover how rapid changes in sea ice in the Arctic will affect China's climate.

Multiple disciplines-including oceanography, meteorology, marine biology and ecology, and sea-ice dynamics and thermodynamics-will be employed in the study.

Sea ice in the Arctic region is diminishing by about 13 percent every decade, altering ocean currents and the environment, according to multiple studies.

"The worst blizzard to hit South China in 50 years, in 2008, and snowstorms in North China and other Asian countries in subsequent years have been proved to be associated with the decrease of sea ice in the Arctic," Liu Na, a researcher at the State Oceanic Administration's No 1 Institute of Oceanography and assistant to the expedition's chief scientist, said during a media briefing on Friday.

"So it's important for us to dig more deeply into the mystery," Liu said.

Li Yuansheng, deputy director of the Polar Research Institute of China and the expedition's chief scientist, said the blizzard of January and February 2008 caused casualties, widespread traffic paralysis, blackouts and crop losses.

China has four research stations in Antarctica but none in the Arctic, so the Xuelong is shouldering great responsibility, Liu said.

"China's climate is affected more by the situation in the Arctic than the Antarctic because of the geographical proximity," he said.

During the 78-day 18,500-km voyage, the 128-member expedition team will set up 82 temporary scientific observation stations. Submerged buoys and radio balloons with GPS will be released to collect data over the long term.

"They can send by satellite the data, including changes in the environment and climate and how the ocean currents affect each other, after we return from the expedition to help us make a comprehensive assessment of the climate and environment of the Arctic," Li said.

Two helicopters will be aboard the Xuelong to assist in ocean observation, safety control and any emergencies.

Three scientists, one from the US and two from France, who have cooperative maritime chemistry projects with the institute, will join the expedition.