Mak­ing ob­ser­va­tions in a world of drift­ing ice

Sci­en­tist shares her ex­pe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing Arc­tic Cir­cle on­board Chi­nese ice­breaker Xue­long

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XIE CHUANJIAO in Ji­nan xiechuan­jiao@chi­

At the end of Septem­ber, China’s sev­enth Arc­tic ex­pe­di­tion team re­turned to Shang­hai. Of the 128 team mem­bers in­volved, five were from the Ocean Uni­ver­sity of China in Qing­dao, Shan­dong prov­ince and Cao Yong was the only fe­male to make sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tions on the ice.

“Ex­plor­ing the mys­ter­ies of the North Pole has been my dream since I worked on my PhD pro­gram in 2005,” she said.

“My hus­band helped me pre­pare, of­fer­ing to look af­ter our baby and en­hanc­ing my faith in my­self for the jour­ney.”

The ex­pe­di­tion be­gan on July 11, when the team boarded the ice­breaker Xue­long, or “Snow Dragon”, and sailed out into the East China Sea. They went through the Ber­ing Sea and en­tered the Arc­tic Cir­cle, a world of drift­ing ice.

Cao was re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing mea­sure­ments of con­duc­tiv­ity, tem­per­a­ture and ocean depth as well as col­lect­ing wa­ter, ice and snow sam­ples. Most of her ob­ser­va­tions could be made from the ship, but oc­ca­sion­ally she had to go onto the ice to work around sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tion sta­tions.

The ex­pe­di­tion stopped at seven ob­ser­va­tion sta­tions — one per­ma­nent, the rest tem­po­rary. Each was vis­ited by the sci­en­tists, who had to wear ther­mal pro­tec­tive suits ev­ery time they left the ship. The suits were nick­named “the pen­guin cos­tume” be­cause of the way they re­stricted the wearer’s move­ments. Each suit weighed 4 kilo­grams.

“We had to carry a sen­sor and walk across the ice for about three hours at a time, but be­cause of the suits our un­der­clothes quickly be­came

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Xue­long. soaked with sweat. If we had stopped walk­ing, we could have frozen,” said Cao, adding “there were some chal­lenges, but the ex­pe­di­tion also recorded a num­ber of firsts, which we are all proud of.”

These achieve­ments in­cluded the Xue­long’s first de­ploy­ment of a drift-tow­ing ocean pro­filer, which col­lects hy­dro­graphic data from the up­per layer of the ocean un­der the ice, the first ex­plo­ration of the Men­deleyev Ridge by a team from Ocean Uni­ver­sity, the first time they had pho­tographed melt pond distri­bu­tion us­ing an un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle and the first time they had mea­sured the thick­ness of sea ice us­ing ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar.

A no­table de­cline in the ex­tent of Arc­tic sea ice was ob­served this year, com­pared with pre­vi­ous ex­pe­di­tions, Cao said.

“In the past, Xue­long could only sail at a speed of 3 to 4 knots in the high lat­i­tude ice zone. But this year we reached 7 knots, which could prove the Xue­long


Cao Yong (right) works with a team mem­ber on the ice dur­ing China’s sev­enth Arc­tic ex­pe­di­tion be­tween July and Septem­ber.


Cao on the ice­breaker on the way to the Arc­tic Cir­cle.


The Xue­long was home for the ex­pe­di­tion’s 128 team mem­bers.


Cao Yong and three sci­en­tists in a cra­dle from

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