Xuelong returns from Antarctic expedition

China's icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, returned to Shanghai from its Antarctic expedition on Saturday morning.

China's icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, returned from Antarctic and docked in Shanghai Saturday morning after a five-and-a-half-month expedition.

The icebreaker, carrying 257 research group members, set sail on November 8 last year and travelled more than 38,000 nautical miles. Its partner Xiangyanghong 01, China's elite science ship, returned to a port in Chile two months ago after a 53-day oceanic research.

According to State's polar research institute, the 34th Antarctic expedition conducted by the two vessels completed 78 researches and 22 support tasks. It was also the first time for Xue Ying 601, or Snow Eagle 601, China's first polar fixed-wing aircraft, to carry 41 persons into and out of the Zhongshan Station.

The expedition finished its mission on the site selection and early stage of the construction of our country's fifth Antarctic research station. A temporary base has been built there, along with a temporary dock, where functions like electricity supply, seawater desalination and communication have been completed.

General oceanic researches were carried out as well, especially on those with ongoing international concern such as microplastics, artificial radioactive nuclide, key water mass and circulation as well as the maritime ecology system.

Microplastics were discovered in waters of Antarctic Peninsula and Davis Sea. "Microplastics are mainly a result of human activities," said He Jianfeng, a chief scientist assistant. 

"The microplastics we found might have something to do with events like travelling or fishing. They may influence some tiny creatures and then larger ones like fish, penguins or seals." He said for better environment protection in the Antarctic, they will expand the inspection area and seek international cooperation on it.

The institute also announced that based on the international law, it is planning to set a reserve for the penguins near the new station, where the research group found a habitat for Adélie penguins and seals.

"There is a huge group of some 20,000 penguins near the new station and we hope to seek a reserve for these 'aborigines'," said Chen Danhong, an official from the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration. So far the Antarctic has 72 special protection zones.

Meanwhile, the research group also participates in an international restoration project on the Antarctic centennial historic sites.

Zhu Bing, captain of the icebreaker, said Xuelong will undergo repair and maintenance in the following months.

The manufacturing of China's first home-built polar research vessel and ice breaker Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2, is well on its way and the vessel is likely to be put into use next year, said Sun Bo, deputy director of the institute.


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