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China's Snow Dragon conquers the Arctic, opening up an ocean route linking Asia and Europe

By The Siberian Times reporter
19 August 2012

China is getting closer to European markets due to 'monumental change' wrought by global warming off Siberia's Arctic coast.

Chinese 'Snow Dragon' icebreaker, picture: Timo Palo

The country's first ship has sailed from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Northern route, it has been announced. 

Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, docked in Iceland on a pioneering voyage that could have huge implications for the country's trade with Europe.

'This is the first Chinese ship to sail this route, and of course it is important because it's a more than 40 percent shorter route to Europe,' said Icelandic scientist Egill Thor Nielsson, who was on board of the icebreaker.

'It took almost ten days to sail from the East Siberian Sea and through the Barents Sea, and during that time there was real pack ice for only seven days.'

Expedition leader Huigen Yang, head of the Polar Research Institute of China, said that the route was largely free of ice.

'To our astonishment ....the most part of the Northern Sea Route is open,' he told Reuters TV.

The Snow Dragon, bought from Ukraine in 1993, is currently China's sole ice breaker, but a second is being built and due for completion in 2014. 

Reports say ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean is on track to beat a record low set in 2007. Arctic sea ice fell to 5.09 million square kilometres (1.97 million square miles) on August 13, an area smaller than the size of Brazil.

The number of ships making this trip rose from 4 in 2010 to 34 in 2011. 

The changing climate makes the region more accessible, but threatens the hunting lifestyles of indigenous peoples and wildlife - such as polar bears and seals.

'China's interest is a mix of business, science and geo-politics,' said Jan Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute.

As well as offering a quicker trade route, China hopes to supply equipment for the drilling bonanza expected in the Arctic in the coming years. 

China has applied to become an observer at the Arctic Council, made up of the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, reported Reuters.

Chinese news agency Xinhua said the Snow Dragon had sailed through the Chukchi Sea, the East Siberian Sea, the Laptev Sea, the Kara Sea and the Barents Sea.

'The unprecedented voyage enabled the team to conduct Arctic research on the Atlantic sector of the Arctic, and opened up a transportation ocean route linking Asia and Europe,' said the report.

'The expedition team is planning to undergo further research on the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea, including releasing China's first observation buoy in the region to record the interaction process between the ocean and the atmosphere.'

An A-2 class icebreaker capable of breaking ice 1.2 meters thick, the Snow Dragon will  cover some 17,000 nautical miles (27,000 km) in 90 days before it returns to Shanghai in late September.

Comments (1)

the world is getting smaller and smaller
Jane, Manchester UK
19/08/2012 18:24
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