China's icebreaker returns after eventful mission to Antarctica

Over 131 days, it traveled more than 30,800 nautical miles, nearly 57,042 kilometers, overcoming difficulties including a collision.

China’s icebreaker Xuelong returned to Shanghai Tuesday morning after completing its 35th Antarctic scientific research.

Xuelong, with 349 crew members on board, set sail from Shanghai on November 2. Over 131 days, it traveled more than 30,800 nautical miles, nearly 57,042 kilometers, overcoming difficulties including a collision.

Due to thick fog, the vessel collided with an iceberg on January 19 when it was traveling at a speed of three knots, about 5.6 kilometers per hour, in the Amundsen Sea in western Antarctica.

Its mast and part of its sides were damaged but, luckily, its engines, water tanks and other major equipment remained safe and no one was injured in the incident. The damaged parts were soon repaired and the vessel was back to normal on January 21.

Xuelong has experienced several “firsts,” including the installation of new facilities and key technological breakthroughs, during its most recent Antarctic voyage.

Chinese researches installed and tested the country’s first fluorescent Doppler lidar system at Zhongshan Station. In the test, the researchers obtained 2.5 GB of data, including 51 hours of useful data.

The new radar system allows researchers to do  round-the-clock observation under clear weather conditions and obtain first-hand information such as temperature and wind field. It fills in a gap in the country’s research about the middle and upper atmosphere in the polar area, and helps researchers to better understand and predict global climate change.

“Our system is the best in the South Pole,” Huang Wentao, a member of the research team and researcher from the Polar Research Institute of China, told Beijing-based Science and Technology Daily.

About 12 kilometers south of the Zhongshan Station, Chinese researchers used the country’s first self-developed polar drilling equipment to drill through almost 200 meters of ice sheet and obtain samples of underlying bedrock.

It is the first sample of underlying bedrock to be drilled in the area, which will help researchers to better understand what lies beneath the thick ice and how ice sheets in the South Pole evolve.

Chinese researchers, for the first time, let the self-developed underwater robot dive in the Ross Sea, and the test proved a success. It will help researchers better understand what’s in the Antarctic Ocean and the relation between the ocean and global climate change.

The researchers also acquired 42 pieces of underwater sediment and nearly 200 kilograms of samples including soil, water, rocks, and animal and plant specimens. They also completed phase-two of construction at Taishan Station, including the installation of electricity, heating and sewage processing systems.

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