By K J M Varma
Beijing, Oct 30 (PTI) China will build the country's first permanent airport in the South Pole which will provide logistical support to scientists and enhance airspace management in the resource-rich Antarctic, official media here reported on Tuesday.
The 35th China's Antarctic expedition will leave on Friday and the major task is to build the airport, which is expected to be located along the ice sheet, 28 kms from the China-built Zhongshan station in Antarctic, the state-run Science and Technology Daily reported.
Chinese scientists built a 4-kilometer-long, 50-meter-wide runway for fixed-wing aircraft in 2009 during the 25th expedition in the Antarctic.
China is joining the US, Russia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand among others in having airfields in the Antarctic, which is rich in natural resources such as silver, gold, platinum and coal.
In 2010, an airport called Feiying was constructed on the ice sheet, according to the earlier official Chinese media reports.
The establishment of the airport will also help China gain management authority of airspace over the South Pole, state-run Global Times quoted the Science and Technology Daily as reporting.
South Pole is the southernmost point on the surface of the Earth and lies on the opposite side of the Earth from the North Pole.
Chinese analysts say the permanent airport will provide logistical support to scientists and enhance airspace management in the Antarctic.
"The new airport allows medium and large transport aircraft, like Boeing planes, to take off and land in the South Pole, shortening transport time as well as enhancing efficiency," Zhang Xia, director of the Polar Strategy Centre at the Polar Research Institute of China, told the Global Times.
He noted that the airport will complete China's aviation security system in the Antarctic, including the communications and meteorological support systems.
The new airport will provide logistical support to Chinese scientists' research there. Specifically, the airport will decrease the exposure time of researchers in the polar environment, as well as medical aid time, he said.
However, analysts pointed out that the project faces many difficulties, just like building an investigation station.
"Around 99.5 per cent of the polar land is covered with accumulations of thick snow leading to a lack of hardness to build an airport," Zhang said, adding that the flat area in the Antarctic is not enough either, and some original districts have already been occupied by other countries.
He noted that the existing runway near the Taishan station is only fit for light aircraft equipped with sleds, which have limited transport capabilities.
Observers say China is ramping up its strategy in South Pole along with other big powers like US and Russia as ice receded due to climate change.
As global warming melts sea ice across the far north, the region is becoming a development hot spot, with major powers like Russia and China seeking control of resources and transport routes, a recent report carried by Japanese publication Nikkei Asia Review said.
The maximum ice coverage hit the lowest level on record in 2017. By as early as 2030, the Arctic Ocean could be largely free of ice in the summer, it said.
The US Geological Survey reported that the Arctic Circle may hold about 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered gas.
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