Chinese set sail to expand Antarctic presence

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SHANGHAI, Nov 12 (Reuters) Dozens of Chinese scientists and support staff left Shanghai today for the country's 24th scientific expedition to Antarctica in which they will expand two research stations and build a third.

The 91-strong team and 40 crew were given a rousing farewell as the vessel ''Xue Long'', or Snow Dragon, left port to a rousing send-off by a military brass band, the beat of traditional dancers and the customary fireworks.

The rest of the explorers will arrive in Antarctica by air.

The third station is a planned observatory with seven telescopes and an acoustic radar at Dome A, the highest point on the continent at 4,100 metres above sea level.

''Even though our country has had numerous expeditions in Antarctica, overall we still do not have a full understanding of the place,'' said expedition member Cui Jianjun, 34.

''So there are indeed many uncertain factors and also great risks involved.'' The explorers will also research bio-diversity, the ice shelf, climate change, Antarctic ice algae and environmental monitoring, Xinhua said.

''We have made preparations to build a third station and once the site is located, construction will start soon. The whole project is expected to be completed by 2010,'' Xinhua news agency quoted Xu Xiaxing, a veteran of the expedition team on his eighth trip to the continent.

Several nations eager to tap mineral resources in Antarctica have been outlining their case before the United Nations in what some experts are describing as the last big carve-up of territory in history.

Some areas of the continent are disputed by Chile, Argentina and Britain. The claims come amid growing interest in the potential for mineral exploitation at both the North and South Poles.

For now, though, all such claims are theoretical because Antarctica is protected by a 1959 treaty which prevents mineral exploitation of the continent except for scientific research.


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