Chinese icebreaker sails to North Pole, explores remote Arctic ridge

The Xue Long 2 will survey the Gakkel Ridge.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - August 12, 2021
A January 7, 2020, file photo shows the Xue Long II during the 36th Antarctic expedition of China. (Liu Shiping / Xinhua / Latin America News Agency via Reuters)

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long 2 (or “Snow Dragon 2”) is on its second voyage in the Arctic, during which it plans to conduct scientific surveys in the Gakkel Ridge.

The 122-meter-long vessel set out from Shanghai on July 12. Over the course of the three and a half months, the icebreaking ship will sail about 15,000 nautical miles.

It is the first scientific voyage to the region during China’s 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), according to state media company CGTN.

On August 4 the ship was sailing north of Russia’s New Siberian Islands and two days later north of Severnaya Zemlya. The ship is set to sail across the North Pole. On its way, it will explore the Gakkel Ridge in order to learn about the formation of rocks and magma and the geomorphic features there, CGTN reports.

The Chinese vessel is this week believed to have sailed south through the Greenland Sea, the waters that separate Greenland with the archipelago of Svalbard. The vessel is no longer visible on ship tracking services.

The Xue Long 2 in early August sailed north of the archipelago of New Siberian Island. (Screenshot via The Independent Barents Observer)

The researchers on board are reported to engage in monitoring of sea and sea-ice, atmosphere, microplastics and ocean acidification in the high seas of the Arctic, and carry out navigation observation, cross-sectional survey and satellite remote sensing.

The Xue Long 2 is owned and managed by the Chinese Polar Institute. The institute has  been instrumental in all of the country’s previous 10 research expedition to the Arctic.

It is the second time that the Xue Long 2 takes part in such an expedition. The ship, completed in 2019, is the first Chinese icebreaker to be built domestically. It has advanced oceanographic and research equipment and can carry out a wide range of scientific expedition tasks.

Until recently, it’s sister ship, Xue Long, has been used on the Chinese Arctic expeditions.

In a comment made during the Arctic Circle China conference in 2019, the chief of China’s State Oceanic Administration said that “protecting the Arctic environment is a common responsibility and China will make its contribution to this.”

He also stressed that China sees itself as “a near-Arctic state” and it will “actively participate with wisdom and strength to future protection and development.”

In early 2018, the country adopted an Arctic policy document. It highlights joint efforts and cooperative approaches, and at the same time underlines that China is determined to participate in Arctic governance and that it has legitimate interests and rights in the region.