China’s icebreaking research vessel Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, will soon begin another summer in the arctic.
Chinese state media Xinhua reports the Snow Dragon is set to leave its Shanghai base next week to embark on a sixth summer expedition to the North Pole.
A crew of nearly 130 scientists and other crew members will take part in the 76-day trip, which will mostly focus on environmental research in the polar region, officials from the Polar Research Institute of China said.
The team will set up eight short-term and one long-term observation stations on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, setting up what one scientist called the largest on-ice observations in China’s arctic expeditions so far.
The project is also seeking information as to how El Niño might affect the polar region, especially with regard to ice coverage.
The trip figures into what has become an increased presence in the arctic by China and other non-arctic nations. The intergovernmental agency known as the Arctic Council has granted China and 11 other nations permanent “observer status” as of 2013. As early as 2010, China was sending ice breakers through the Arctic Ocean, following a route that could cut shipping times to northern Europe by up to two weeks when compared to the current route through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.
The Xuelong is China’s only functioning ice breaker, but Chinese media The China Daily reports the country is expecting to build a second icebreaker by 2016.