Summer is just coming to Antarctica. A water channel has emerged after China’s Xuelong icebreaker split the ice, creating a location for more than 20 emperor penguins to catch fish and play with each other.
Carrying a research team on the country’s 35th Antarctic expedition, Xuelong is now docking in the sea ice area about 44 kilometers away from the Zhongshan station.
After members of the research team plotted routes on the ice, the unloading operations were carried out orderly.
A helicopter lifted supplies, while four snowmobiles loaded with six containers of supplies headed to the Zhongshan station. The Xuelong’s chief mate and boatswain worked in shifts to organize the sailors unloading goods and materials onto the ice.
Compared to previous Antarctic expeditions, the research team has met unprecedented difficulties and challenges this year. The condition of the ice, which is thick overall, presented complications. Moreover, the distance between the Xuelong’s docking point and the Zhongshan station – 44 kilometers – is the farthest of any year.
Sun Bo, the research team leader, said that 1,621 tons of supplies would be unloaded in the Zhongshan station in less than half a month.
“A variety of high-tech equipment is used in the unloading operation, along with all kinds of sea, land and air vehicles, making a concentrated display of China’s Antarctic research capabilities,” he said.
China to build its first permanent South Pole airport
Besides carrying out unloading operations, the most important task for the 35th Antarctic expedition is to build China’s first permanent airport in the South Pole.
The airport is expected to be built on an ice sheet 28 kilometers from the Zhongshan station. However, building a permanent airport in Antarctica is no less difficult than building a research station.
To ensure that aircraft can take off and land safely, there must be an appropriate amount of frictional force on the ground. Therefore, when constructing the airport, builders have to compact the snow with special machinery to increase the friction potential.
Strong, prevailing katabatic winds at the edge of the Antarctic continent, which will impact an aircraft’s landing and departure, also pose a big threat to the airport.
To solve this problem, the builders must work closely with meteorologists to select suitable weather conditions for landing and take-off.
According to the plan, the airport’s runway will be 1,500 meters in length and 80 meters in width. The establishment of the airport will provide logistic support to scientists and help China increase management authority on airspace over the South Pole.