MARCH 13 2012 03:25h

China readies arctic research mission

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BEIJING, March 12 (UPI) -- China says it will conduct a research expedition in the Northeast Passage, its first attempt to traverse the shipping route also called the Northern Sea Route.

The arctic expedition aboard the Xuelong (Snow Dragon) icebreaker will carry out oceanic, atmospheric, sea-ice and marine life research in the region, Liu Cigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration, told China's state-run news agency Xinhua.

"If the expedition goes according to plan it will also be the first time for a Chinese icebreaker to reach the Barents Sea," Liu said.

China has conducted previous arctic expedition in 1999, 2003, 2008 and 2010.

There are two routes available through the ice-choked Arctic Ocean -- the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage.

The Northwest Passage winds through the cold arctic waters north of Canada while the Northeast Passage extends along the northern coast of Russia.

China will send researchers to the Yellow River Station in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway in April for the start of the Arctic research mission through the Northeast Passage, Liu said.