Chinese research vessel "Kexue" conducts operation in South China Sea

Xu Fei China Plus Published: 2017-08-09 09:57:37
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Photo taken on July 10, 2017 shows the comprehensive research vessel, the Kexue (Science), leaving a port in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province.[Photo:Xinhua]

Photo taken on July 10, 2017 shows the comprehensive research vessel, the Kexue (Science), leaving a port in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province.[Photo:Xinhua]

China's latest cutting-edge research vessel, the Kexue or "Science" in English, recently set off on its first mission from a port in Qingdao, in east China's Shandong Province.

Onboard are 79 researchers who are set to conduct a three-month long comprehensive study in the South China Sea, using an underwater glider and robot. Shen Ting has more.

Zhou Wenzao is one of the 79 researchers. His wife Tan Yanfang arrived early in the morning to witness her husband take on this important mission in the deep seas.

"I brought our child here to see him off. We hope that his work goes on smoothly and so that he can return to us soonest safe and sound."

The research vessel was made by The Institute of Oceanology, together with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and is capable of carrying out global navigation and make all-weather observations. Kexue has the most advanced comprehensive performance in China. The yearlong construction of this vessel began in October 2010 and was put into operation in November the following year.

In June, Kexue completed two navigation tasks on the West Pacific Ocean and the Yap Trench respectively

A month later, the vessel was assigned with its first task. Yuan Lin is a First Mate on Kexue.

"We'd repaired the dock and taken aboard some of the laboratory's equipment. There are quite a few recreational areas on our vessel, such as the lounge, the internet bar and an entertainment room, which would improve the researchers' quality of life."

All marine equipment for observation is firmly fixed on the deck. Researchers explain that most of the equipment are marine technological devices independently developed by China, including ocean glider, autonomous submersibles, samplers, in-situ detector, and communication equipment. The equipment would be soon put into various investigation tasks.

The Ship will travel along four routes, mainly conducting deep-sea exploration and sampling in the northern sea area of the South China Sea. During this period, the Kexue plans to dock at Shenzhen and Xiamen ports to regain supplies.

Also on board is Chief scientist Yu Jiancheng; a research fellow from Shenyang Institute of Automation.

"The glider independently developed by China will be used in the observations of mid-sized eddies of the South China Sea. AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) and ROV (remotely operated vehicle) are mainly responsible for observing the cold seeps of the South China Sea. "

The submarine topography in the South China Sea is relatively simple, which is conducive to ROV's underwater observation. The so-called ROV works like a smartphone and can be installed with all types of apps. It's suitable for underwater exploration, sampling among other tasks.

An engineer named Wu Yue explains:

"The terrain will not be that complicated in the South China Sea. ROV is a platform that carries various types of equipment, including one for biological researches. There might be new challenges but we will combat those new obstacles with our experience."

The Scientists would definitely encounter uncertainties during the oceanographic research. In one case, they tried to cast a cable to reach a level of around 5,000 meters below sea. However it still could not reach the seabed even after 7000 to 8000 meters of cable had been dropped in the sea, since the ship drifts with the wind. Kexue has a dynamic positioning system, which will create a stable environment for launching underwater observation platforms.

Sun Song believes that the scientific expedition will be a comprehensive survey of the topography, mineral resources and ecological environment within the seabed in the South China Sea, which will play a crucial role in demystifying the secrets that lie 4000 to 6000 meters under water.

"The ecosystem in marine areas is different from what we know as "Living things do need sunlight to survive". Chemical energy is a key branch of science that may unlock the mysteries of sea area, which is also part of the earth. Potential strategic resources will also be explored; including minerals, and energy, gas hydrate, and also medicinal resources."

On July 9th, one day before the ship departed, China's Ministry of Land and Resources had announced that a trial run project of producing gas hydrate at the South China Sea had successfully generated more than 300 thousand cubic meters of gas.

Sun Song says that the ecological research on the surrounding environment of combustible ice will also be one of the important research tasks for Kexue.

"…since the major material in the cold seep area is methane, involving combustible ice. In fact, a very special ecosystem forms around the mouth where methane overflows. A lot of explorations in the early stage should be done on the formation of combustible ice and its ecological and environmental effects."

The underwater glider, the underwater robot and other facilities that the ship is equipped with for its sailing are all independently developed by China.

Li Shuo is the deputy director of Shenyang Institute of Automation with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"These include the nation's most advanced 1000-meter underwater glider and AUV that is able to explore 4500 meters underwater. It is the first time that our country has used self-developed marine technological equipment on a large scale for systematic research. We also want to solve our country's marine scientific issues through the equipment independently developed on our own."

Sun Song, chief scientist of the research project, also compares the ongoing scientific research task of Kexue to a big testing of China's self-made deep-sea detection equipment.

"The main purpose is to form a platform for deep sea exploration and study. This platform is mainly based on the large equipment independently developed by our country. Using the equipment would help us discover the problems that may hinder future development and build an international platform later on. Without such a platform, we could do nothing but bemoan our inadequacy in the face of a big task".

With China's newly-developed equipment, Sun Song and his colleagues believe that their dream and ambition will soon come true.

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