China to Break Ground on Antarctic Base

BEIJING—After a weeklong, 522-kilometer traverse, a 28-strong team of Chinese scientists and engineers is due to arrive tomorrow in the heart of Princess Elizabeth Land in East Antarctica to start building China’s fourth Antarctic base. 

The new base, called Taishan, will sit 2621 meters above sea level in “a part of Antarctica we know very little about,” says Robin Bell, a glaciologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. She and others are looking forward to using Taishan as a launch pad for probing the geological history of the Grove Mountains and the glaciology of the Amery Ice Shelf.  

Taishan “will be open to research by any country,” says Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration here. A key asset of the new base will be a permanent runway that will allow researchers to cut travel time by 2 weeks to China’s Kunlun base atop Dome A, a premier inland perch for astronomy and for drilling into the ice sheet to gather climate data from the past 1.5 million years. Taishan’s main building is expected to be completed by early February, and the runway should open in about 2 years.

In the meantime, Chinese scientists this season will start surveying along the western coast of the Ross Sea for a place to build their third year-round station. China already has two year-round stations elsewhere on the Antarctic coast. The third would open up opportunities to study the Ross Ice Shelf, one of the continent’s biggest. Construction on what would be the nation’s fifth base could commence by the end of 2015, Qu says.