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'PANDA' to Plumb Depths of South Pole

Chinese scientists have detailed an ambitious program targeting the Antarctic inland area.



As an internationally co-ordinated research initiative, the IPY will focus on drastic changes in the Polar Regions and analyze their broader environmental and economic impact upon the planet.


Its committee has accepted the Chinese PANDA program.


PANDA is a multi-goal research plan that includes deep ice coring at Dome A, the highest location on the Antarctic ice sheet, and a study of interactions of ocean-ice shelf-ice sheet system from Pridz Bay to Dome A, according to Yang Huigen, deputy director of the Shanghai-based Polar Research Institute of China.


"Several countries including the United States, France, Japan and the United Kingdom have shown interest in this plan. It will kick off once we get government funding," he said.


The scientist called the IPY a "very good opportunity" for China to catch up with global polar research, since PANDA is expected to recover the oldest record of climate change.


China is also working on a third station in the Antarctica at Dome A.


"It will be the first inland station of our country and will definitely advance our future Antarctic expeditions," Yang said.


Currently, China has two stations in the Antarctica: Changcheng (Great Wall), established in 1985 and Zhongshan, in 1989.


Yang said the third station could take 10 years to be set up, but what is more exciting for now is the installation of a homemade high frequency radar that should be completed in three or four years.


The radar, to be located at Zhongshan Station, will be used to monitor convection of the upper atmosphere within 2,500 kilometers, according to Yang.


It will cover areas that so far remains blank, and capture nightside aurora, he said.


The aurora, which is caused by collisions between charged solar wind particles and the earth's upper atmosphere along magnetic fields, can be classified into dayside aurora and nightside aurora.


Dayside auroras are created by those solar wind particles that reach the Earth's ionosphere directly along dayside field lines. While nightside auroras are formed from particles accelerated in the magnetopheric tail towards the earth. These particles get trapped on the closed field line.


Yang said nightside auroras appear at different latitudes from dayside auroras and are more unpredictable. This makes their observation important.


In addition, the new radar has enabled China to join the SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network), an international radar network for studying the earth's upper atmosphere, ionosphere and connection into space.


Members of SuperDARN are committed to sharing the radars' network in polar upper atmosphere observation. Therefore, China will also take advantage of its new radar to share the privilege, Yang said.


"We just selected the site during our latest expedition," said the lead scientist of the country's 22nd Antarctic expedition team, which left on November 18 last year on the icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) and returned on March 28.


(China Daily May 10, 2006)




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