China on its 13th Arctic expedition | Polarjournal
The Chinese icebreaker Xua-Long-2 departed Shanghai on 12 July for the 13th Arctic expedition. (Photo: CHINARE)

China’s thirteenth Arctic expedition team set sail July 12 on a mission that is expected to last until the end of September, covering a voyage of 15,500 nautical miles (28,700 kilometers). Geographically, the expedition will focus on the central section of the Pacific Arctic region and the Gakkel Ridge. In the process, researchers will record a variety of data. However, the focus is on long-term monitoring of key environmental factors and the geographic location of the Gakkel Ridge, as well as geophysics.

Since 1999, China has conducted twelve scientific expeditions in the Arctic using its research vessels Xuelong and Xuelong 2 as platforms. (Photo: CHINARE)

“During the current mission, we will study the central part of the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Sector and the Gakkel Ridge. Our research programs include studies of the atmosphere, marine environment, biological resources, geological issues, as well as those related to geophysics.” explained Wang Jinhui, captain of the Xuelong 2, the icebreaker of China’s 13th Arctic Expedition Mission.

With this expedition, the Beijing government aims to improve its capacity to protect the Arctic, combat change, and assess marine pollution according to official sources. The Chinese research teams also receive support from colleagues in Russia, Thailand and other countries.

During last year’s expedition mission, which lasted 79 days and covered a voyage of 14,000 nautical miles, the team conducted extensive observations of the atmosphere, ocean and ecology in the Chukchi Sea, with a focus on combating climate change and protecting the Arctic’s ecological environment, according to an official statement.

The expedition is part of an extension of the Chinese polar program. “We are continuously improving the national polar observation and monitoring network and accelerating the construction of the fifth Antarctic research station,” China’s Minister of Natural Resources Wang Guanghua told Chinese media.

One of the focal points is Gakkel Ridge, a mid-ocean ridge in the Arctic, measuring about 1800 km. It lies as a northern continuation of the North Atlantic Ridge between Greenland and Siberia. (Graphic:

Xuelong and Xuelong 2 together in Antarctica

In April, the Chinese Antarctic Scientific Expedition completed its 39th expedition to Antarctica. The mission had lasted 163 days from October 2022 to April and included 255 researchers. The two research icebreakers Xuelong and Xuelong 2 were used for the expedition.

The researchers focused on the effects of climate change on the Southern Ocean and studies of oceanic ecosystems at the South Pole. Most of the observations and data analyses were conducted at four of China’s Antarctic research stations. A fifth station is currently under construction.

Climate change is making the polar regions increasingly accessible, exposing pristine ecosystems and resources for interested countries to explore. China has used this opportunity to be more present in the region, seeking to increase its influence in polar affairs. The melting of the Arctic ice is opening up new shipping routes that are of huge importance to Beijing due to the resources and its “New Silk Road Policy”. Accordingly, the country has also intensified its relations with Russia despite Western criticism and is now, together with India, the main buyer of Russian fossil fuels from the Arctic.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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