|Chinese scientists onboard the Xuelong takes samples of the Antarctic atmosphere on Sunday. Zhang Jiansong / Xinhua|
China expects to build its new icebreaker before 2016, government officials said, as the veteran Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, remains stuck in Antarctic ice after rescuing 52 passengers from a Russian vessel.
"The new ship will surpass China's only icebreaker, the Xuelong, in scientific research and ice-breaking ability, greatly improving the country's polar research capability," Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration under the State Oceanic Administration, said on Sunday.
The new icebreaker will be designed mainly for field research, instead of transporting supplies, and it will have a better power system plus larger decks and laboratories, making it a "mobile research station", Qu said.
It will be shorter and have blades at the bow and a stern that will be able to break ice up to 1.5 meters thick, about 0.4 meters more than the Xuelong can handle.
The design contract, which cost more than $613 million, was signed with Aker Arctic Technology of Finland in 2012, and it will be built by a Chinese shipyard, the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration said.
According to the preliminary design, the vessel will be 100 to 120 meters long and about 24 meters wide, and it will displace 8,000 metric tons.
The ship, which will have a crew of 90, will have a cruising radius of 37,000 km, and it will be fitted with twin propeller drives.
One icebreaker cannot meet China's increasing demand for polar expeditions, scientists and experts said.
Liu Xiaohan, a polar studies expert researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said a country's polar research capabilities depend on how advanced its icebreaker is.
Russia has dozens of icebreakers, six of them nuclear-powered ones; the United States has seven icebreakers, including one under construction; and Canada has six.