China's Science Spending Spree; First The Moon, Now Research Bases In Antarctica

By Ben Wolford on December 19, 2013 6:01 PM EST

Antarctica
China has been expanding its scientific reach, most recently opening a fourth research base in Antarctica.

The world's emerging superpower seems to have caught on to the rush of scientific exploration. China has just landed a moon rover, they're planning to send a submarine to the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and now state media announced that China is expanding operations in Antarctica.

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Polar builders have begun construction of a new summer research center more than 300 miles inland. It will be the nation's fourth research base and its first inland location. Even as the construction begins there, in an area not far from American, Italian, and South Korean bases, the Chinese are scouting for the site of a fifth base. According to Reuters, the Chinese president Xi Jinping this summer identified the South Pole as an important scientific research area.

"As a latecomer to Antarctic scientific research, China is catching up," Qu Tanzhou, director of the State Oceanic Administration's Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, told the state news agency Xinhua. "Building the Taishan camp and inspecting sites for the station can further guarantee that Chinese scientists will conduct scientific research over a wider range and in a safer way."

China's range has grown exponentially. The country historically has kept to itself. But as its wealth has soared, China has globalized as much as anybody, investing deeply in places as far as Africa and the Bahamas. In October, Xinhua announced that the deep-sea submersible Jiaolong was scheduled for an Indian Ocean dive at the end of 2014 to investigate polymetallic sulfides there. This year, China took the submarine on 21 practice dives in the South China Sea. "Scientists brought back a total of 390 creatures from the seabed representing 71 species," Xinhua said, "including coral, sea cucumbers and sea anemones, as well as a number of samples including 161 polymetallic nodules, 32 rocks, and 180 kg of sediment."

And this month, China became the third country to successfully touch down on lunar dust. Only the United States and Russia have previously landed objects on the moon, and only Americans have sent people there. China dispatched a moon rover, called Jade Rabbit, basically to practice the technology required to put humans on the moon's surface. According to National Geographic, the rover landed successfully and has started to send back high definition photos

Qu told Xinhua that climate change is the reason for China's increased investment in Antarctica, where scientists are "striving to find answers." (China leads the world in carbon emissions.) Construction design plans released by the Chinese government show a building site of about 1,000 square yards shaped like a Chinese lantern. The site will house 20 researchers during the Antarctica's summer season (concurrent with the winter months up north). "When built, the camp will be a logistics hub for personnel and materials such as oil and equipment, expanding the research range," Qu said.

Nobody owns Antarctica, though several countries have made territorial claims. England was the first, in 1908, according to Reuters. Then came New Zealand, France, Norway, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. China says it isn't trying to take over the place.

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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