Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty

Chen Huizhi
The first polar research vessel built by China is ready for its first mission.
Chen Huizhi
Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The Xuelong 2 vessel

Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2, the first polar research vessel built by China, was handed over for use on Thursday in Shanghai.

The vessel, what China’s Ministry of Natural Resources calls "a breakthrough in supply and support of polar research," was designed by the No. 708 Research Institute of China State Shipbuilding Co and the Finnish Aker Arctic Technology Co, and built by Jiangnan Shipyard Group Co in Shanghai.

The ship is 122.5 meters long and 22.3 meters wide, with a draught of 7.85 meters and displacement of about 14,000 tons. It can cruise at up to 15 knots with a range of 20,000 nautical miles on one load of fuel. It needs to resupply every 60 days.

It is the first polar research vessel to have double-direction ice-breaking capability and can break 1.5-meter ice plus 20cm snow at a speed of 2 to 3 knots in either direction, enabling it to navigate all polar areas.

“The vessel is the top-performing icebreaker in China, although there are more powerful ones in other countries, but as an icebreaker with research functions, it’s one of the very best,” said Wu Gang, designer of the vessel.

Smaller than its predecessor Xuelong, it is more versatile in its research capacity with more than 580 square meters of laboratory space.

When surrounded on all four sides by ice, equipment can be lowered into the ocean through a well in the middle of vessel known as the “moon pool.”

Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Equipment, when surrounded on all four sides by ice, can be lowered into the ocean through a well in the middle of vessel.

Xuelong 2 also has an underwater sonar which can detect icebergs 5 kilometers ahead so it can cruise safely even when no maps of the ocean are available.

Powerful thrusters at both bow and stern mean it can keep its position in 1.8-meter waves and currents of 1.5 knots. The vessel can safely navigate winds of up to 37 meters per second.

The vessel has many green features. A selective catalytic reduction system processes nitrogen oxides in diesel exhaust and reduces them to non-pollutants nitrogen and water.

For researchers often parted from their families, life on Xuelong 2 is comfortable. It carries about 600 tons of drinking water, much more than its predecessor. Desalinated sea water is drinkable, but drinking it in the long term can cause hair loss and is just not very pleasant. The whole vessel is insulated with an advanced anti-rolling system. It has a telemedicine diagnostic system, a gym and a reading room.

Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A laboratory in the vessel

Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A bedroom in the vessel

After fine-tuning of its research equipment, the vessel will join its predecessor Xuelong on China’s 36th research mission to the Antarctic.

Qin Weijia, head of the polar research office of the State Oceanic Administration, said Xuelong 2 will break the ice for Xuelong to transport a rather large amount of research material to the Zhongshan Station. Xuelong is often unable to dock close to the station because it can only break ice of 1 meter.

Next year, the new vessel will join two from Germany and Russia in the Arctic.

Xuelong 2 is China’s fourth polar research vessel after Xiang Yang Hong 10, Ji Di and Xuelong.

China now has four research stations in the Antarctic with a fifth being built, and one at the North Pole.

Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The steering cabin of the vessel

Icebreaker Snow Dragon 2 reports for duty
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The hangar for the helicopter Leonardo AW169 which will undertake missions such as finding ice lanes, emergency rescue, personnel transportation, remote research work and lifting materials.

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