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Explorers Accomplish Antarctic High

Chinese polar explorers have become the first people to reach the summit of Dome A, the highest icecap in Antarctica, planting the flag there at 3.16 AM Beijing time on Tuesday.

Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, said the 12-strong team had been working for several days to pinpoint the peak's exact location.

They recorded it as 80:22:00 degrees south, 77:21:11 degrees east and 4,093 meters above sea level.

The scientists have set up an automatic weather observation system on the dome that can function at minus 90 degrees Centigrade. The system, developed jointly by China and Australia, transmits real-time information on local temperature, humidity, solar radiation, wind power and direction and atmospheric pressure via satellite.

The expedition drilled 100 meters down through the ice and will collect samples to study.

They also plan to establish an interim scientific observation station to monitor the climatic environment, measure the depth of the icecap and obtain further samples from depths of 150 to 200 meters.

The team is scheduled to descend on Thursday but they will leave an impromptu commemorative structure made from 13 empty oil drums topped with a flag.

The Antarctic icecap accounts for 70 percent of the earth's freshwater resources. It has an average thickness of around 2,450 meters, reaching more than 4,000 meters in some places.

Climate-induced change in the continent's glaciers could noticeably affect sea levels. According to scientists worldwide, Antarctica's ice can provide high-quality information for research into global climatic changes.

The explorers will stay in the area for 10 to 15 days and then return to their base at Zhongshan Station on the coast, where they disembarked on December 14 before traveling 1,200 kilometers inland to the formidable and dangerous location of Dome A.

Another important task for the expedition is to choose a site for a permanent research station near Dome A, a project included in China's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

China has already built two research stations, Changcheng and Zhongshan, but neither is located inland.

(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2005)

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