Encounters with polar bears, feasting on spider crabs, playing football on the ice; Doctor Chen Jigang of Wanli College in Zhejiang Province recounted his 76 day adventure in the Arctic to a local Ningbo newspaper recently.
Chen arrived back in Ningbo after a 12,000 kilometer trip to the North Pole on the ice breaker Snow- Dragon, at the end of September. The expedition team left for the Arctic on July 11 and returned to Shanghai on September 25.
"We were absolutely thrilled when we saw polar bears," Chen told the newspaper.
The number of polar bears is decreasing as global warming shrinks the Arctic ice cap, so the explorers had doubted they would see any.
"When we heard an announcement that a polar bear had been spotted, we rushed on deck." Chen recalled he was worried the huge icebreaker would frighten the bear away before he saw it. But the bear stuck around and jumped in and out of the water several times. They managed to get so close Chen said it was like being at the zoo.
The icebreaker Xuelong, the carrier for China's third scientific Arctic expedition, sailed into the Arctic early on Saturday, August 2, 2008. The icebreaker set off on July 11 from Shanghai and reached the Arctic Circle after a three-week journey through the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea and the Bering strait.
They even witnessed polar bears fighting over territory. An old bear drove a younger one away but the younger one returned with a friend and chased the old bear from his territory.
Chen Jigang said polar bears used to eat only live animals so people could avoid being attacked by playing dead, but recently lack of food has forced the bears to begin eating dead meat. The explorers are worried this is another sign of approaching extinction.
The sun never sets in at the North Pole and the team had lots of heavy work to do. Chen's wife said she had expected him to have lost weight, and was surprised when he came back looking so fit and healthy.
Chen said the crew feasted on conch, shrimps and spider crabs. He said the spider crab reminded him of the famous Chinese dishes "Yangcheng Lake steamed crab" and "Sanmen green crab".
One of his happiest memories was of an impromptu football match played on the ice with flags as goalposts. It was a chance for the whole crew to get out and have fun together.
The team arrived at the North Pole with half a ton of equipment but came back with only a few samples of soil, seawater and microbes. It took enormous effort to collect the tiny samples. To collect soil from the seabed 3000 meters below requires a geological winch and other heavy equipment.
Their precious samples are now stored in a refrigerator at 80 degrees below zero waiting for Doctor Chen to begin his analysis.
(China.org.cn by Jessica Zhang, September 30, 2008)