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August 19, 2012

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Arctic research institute set for Shanghai

CHINA will launch its first international Arctic cooperation and research institute in Shanghai, sources attending a Sino-Iceland workshop said yesterday in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The workshop on Arctic studies was held as part of the first formal visit to an Arctic country by China"s fifth Arctic expedition team, aboard the icebreaker Xuelong, or "Snow Dragon." The icebreaker arrived in Iceland after sailing the Northern Route along the coast of Russia. It became the first ship from China to cross the Arctic Ocean.

The new Sino-Northern Europe cooperation and research institute for Arctic studies will cover issues like adaptation to climate change and sustainable development, cooperation between Northeast Asia and North Europe on Arctic economic development and cooperation strategies and policies.

Expedition leader Yang Huigen said he had expected a lot more ice along the route than they encountered.

"To our astonishment ... most part of the Northern Sea Route is open," he told Reuters TV. The icebreaker will return to China by a route closer to the North Pole.

Yang said China was interested in the "monumental change" in the polar environment caused by global warming.

Sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean is on track to beat a record low set in 2007, making the region more accessible but threatening the hunting lifestyles of indigenous peoples and wildlife such as polar bears and seals.

The thaw is slowly opening up the Arctic as a short-cut route ? the German-based Beluga Group, for instance, sent a cargo vessel north from Korea to Rotterdam in 2009.

"The (Chinese) journey indicates a growing interest in the melting of the ice in the northern regions and how climate change is affecting the globe and the future of all nations," the office of Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said.

Arctic sea ice extent on August 13 fell to about 5.09 million square kilometers - an area smaller than Brazil, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice reaches its smallest in September before expanding again as winter approaches. Xuelong set out from the port city of Qingdao on July 2 and will travel an estimated 17,000 nautical miles during its 90-day voyage. It is scheduled to return to Shanghai on September 29.

China has applied to become an observer at the Arctic Council, made up of the Russia, Canada, the US, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.


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