China's deep-sea center 'open to the whole world'

Updated: 2013-04-13 01:20

By WANG QIAN and XIE CHUANJIAO in Qingdao (China Daily)

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Shandong province marine facility expected to start operating next year

The China National Deep Sea Center, expected to start operating next year, will be open to China and the world to explore the ocean depths, according to a senior official.

Liu Feng, director of the center, said that by drawing on ideas from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States, a well-known ocean research, engineering and educational organization, the center will act as a bridge connecting scientists' demands with technical research and development.

With building expected to start in May, the center will cover about 26 hectares of land and 62.7 hectares of sea in Jimo county, off the east coast of Shandong province, serving as a support station for deep-sea facilities, including Jiaolong, China's manned submersible.

The center's design plan includes a construction and maintenance workshop, a scientific research building, a large pool for experimental dives, and training facilities. It will feature five berths to accommodate two vessels weighing 6,000 metric tons and three of 3,000 tons.

Xinhua News Agency reported that the center will cost an estimated 495 million yuan ($78.6 million) for initial construction, but Liu said the cost can only be disclosed after the feasibility report is approved by the National Development and Reform Commission.

Scientists can apply to use the deep-sea equipment managed by the center, Liu said.

Liu also said an expert assessment committee should be set up to assess applications, and arrange them according to urgency and feasibility, as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution does.

But regulations and detailed operating rules, such as how to levy charges, are still being considered. The deep-sea base program is the fifth of its kind in the world, following those in the US, Russia, France and Japan.

Center: Many countries have set goals to explore ocean

"Besides Jiaolong, other ocean research facilities will be managed by the center, including a 4,000 ton mother ship for submersible and ocean scientific research vessels and automatic underwater vehicles," Liu said.

Ren Zhengang, director of the construction office at the Qingdao Blue Economic Zone, said the center's land construction project will start later this year.

The deep-sea base program is also on the schedule of the China Ocean Mineral Resource Research and Development Association this year, said Jin Jiancai, secretary-general of the association.

He said the center will provide maintenance and technical support for deep-sea equipment, such as Jiaolong.

With attention focusing on construction of the deep-sea center, China is accelerating its oceanic exploration efforts.

At the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November, Hu Jintao, former general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, said building China into a maritime power has strategic importance.

Oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth's surface, influencing the climate, producing half the planet's oxygen and providing huge economic value.

"It is not enough to just explore our three million-square-kilometer seawater area for China. The deep sea, as an important part of the ocean, should be covered in our scientific research and exploration, which is also a part of building China into a maritime power," Liu said, adding it is also the reason for establishing the center.

Scientists believe the sea at depths of 4,000 to 6,000 meters holds abundant deposits of rare metals and methane hydrate, a form of natural gas bound in ice that could serve as a new energy source.

Besides China, many countries are accelerating efforts to explore the ocean for undersea resources and energy.

China sent Jiaolong below 7,000 meters in June 2012. It will be sent to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean from June to September for scientific research.

Liu said a plan for the center's deep-sea equipment development for the next five to 10 years will be drawn up this year.