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Explorers Brave Risks in Name of Science

A team of 15 scientists returned to Beijing on last Friday from a journey to the heart of Hohxil in northwest China, becoming the first people to survive a trip deep into the largest uninhabited area in China, the third largest in the world.

"The precious first-hand information gathered, which complements 10 academic disciplines, will contribute greatly to studies on the formation of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, and to efforts to preserve the ecological environment on the plateau," Ding Lin, team leader and geologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted by China Daily as saying.

He added that the success of the expedition marks the start of a three-year project by the Chinese Academy of Sciences to investigate Hohxil, which covers about 83,000 square kilometers in the northern part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, and has an average altitude of 5,300 meters above sea level.

It took the scientists 40 days to complete their first journey,and will be followed by at least two in the next three years. During the 600-kilometer trek, they often had to walk with heavy loads on their backs across a bleak landscape of frozen earth, karst formations, glaciers and volcanoes, according to Ding.

"The weather changed in most unexpected ways. At one time, the temperature dropped 40 C within half an hour in the middle of the day, when a snowstorm suddenly drove the sunshine away. The content of oxygen in the air was only half that in Beijing," he said.

In one dangerous situation, five scientists on a search mission had to abandon their two trucks when they sunk into an ice river, forcing them to walk 22 kilometers back to the camp through a snowstorm.

Though challenged by the harsh environment, the scientists managed to collect information on the local geological and topographical features, glacial landforms, rivers and lakes, frozen soils, volcanoes, minerals, plants and animals, which will be analysed at the academy's institutes in Beijing and Nanjing of east China.

They also for the first time collected data on the area's climate, as they set up temporary weather monitoring stations along the way.

Li Jian'guo, a researcher with the Nanjing Institute of Geologyand Palaeontology, brought back 150 kilograms of fossil specimens.

(Xinhua News Agency November 15, 2005)

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