China to build fifth research station in Antarctica

The Chinese icebreaker research vessel Xuelong, which set sail in October, has begun preparations for constructing China’s fifth research station in Antarctica.

Xuelong, meaning Snow Dragon, reached the waters near Victoria Land in Antarctica Dec 26.

The vessel’s helicopter Xueying, meaning Snow Eagle, transported 13 scientists of China’s 31st Antarctic expedition, along with 10 tonnes of supplies to Inexpressible Island for scientific investigation, the ministry of land and resources confirmed.

The team is carrying out activities such as surveying and mapping the area for selecting a location for their fifth base next to the Ross Sea, and it is expected to be constructed this summer.

This base, for which a name is yet to be decided, would be designed to accommodate about 80 people in summer and about 30 in winter.

When Xuelong returned from its previous mission last year, Zha Enlai, a researcher at China Geological Survey’s Centre of Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology, said that the base would be built on an area of about 6,000 square metres and would have its own wind farm.

China has built four bases in the Antarctic since 1984, the last in 2013.

The base would be constructed mainly for the Beidou navigation satellite system, said the country’s official press in November, but it raised some controversy in Australia where it was feared that it could be used for military purposes.

The international treaty that governs Antarctica establishes that its territory should only be used for peaceful means, but systems like Beidou or the Norwegian Trollsat (used by the US) are said to violate these norms as they can be used to direct guided missiles.

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The Chinese presence in Antarctica is set to increase in the coming years as it has already acquired a BT-67 fixed-wing aircraft which will enter service by October, Polar Research Institute of China’s Director Zhang Tijun recently confirmed to Efe news agency.

The plane, an improved version of the US DC-3 transport aircraft, will have space for 38 passengers and a capacity for carrying 5.9 tonnes of cargo.

It is also expected that by 2016 China will have its second polar investigation vessel, which will be its first indigenous one as the Xuelong was bought from Ukraine in 1993 and remodelled as an icebreaker.

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