Xuelong, also known as Snow Dragon – a Chinese icebreaker – became the first Chinese ship to cross the Arctic Ocean, as it returned to Shanghai earlier this week.
Although this is the country’s fifth Arctic expedition, this is an unprecedented round trip between the Pacific and the Atlantic via the Arctic route.
According to Polar Research Institute of China, there were 119 crewmembers aboard the icebreaker. It took a total of three months to complete the 18,500 nautical mile expedition, beginning in early July from Qingdao; this included over 5,000 nautical miles through the Arctic ice zone.
Aided by the retreat of Arctic ice that scientists have linked to global warming, Xuelong completed its first trip through the Northwest seaway after channeling through the Arctic's five so-called marginal seas from July 22 to Aug 2: the Chukchi Sea, the East Siberian Sea, the Laptev Sea, the Kara Sea and the Barents Sea – reports China Daily.
The Northwest Passage has been gradually tested as a global shipping route, but has not yet become a reliable commercial course, with transit limited mainly to military or research craft. An Arctic shortcut would allow mariners to quicken trade between Asia and the West. As the Arctic has warmed and sea ice has retreated, countries and companies have become more focused on the resources, trade routes and security issues that are surfacing in what was once an ice-locked remote place.
The crew carried out numerous research investigations including studies on oceanic turbulence and methane content in the Arctic area, as well as performing a systematic geophysical survey. They also had academic relations with their Icelandic counterparts; the two groups conducted a joint oceanic survey in the waters around Iceland, says Ship & Bunker.
Xuelong is an A-2 class icebreaker capable of breaking ice 1.2 meters thick. China is reportedly designing a new icebreaker, which is scheduled to go into operation in 2014. The new vessel will be capable of breaking through ice up to 1.5 meters thick and covered with up to 0.2 meter of snow at a speed of 2 to 3 knots.
Related: China Arrives in the Arctic
Photo (thumb): A model of Xuě Lóng, showing her prior to the 2007 refit.