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China set to begin building fourth Antarctic base for climate change research

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A view of Sheldon Glacier with Mount Barre in the background, seen from Ryder Bay near Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica. (British Antarctic Survey/NASA/AFP)

A team of 28 construction workers arrived at the site of what will be China's fourth Antarctic research base, state media reported Thursday, and are set to begin construction.

The group travelled over 300 miles to reach the future site of Taishan Station, which is being built about 310 miles inland and will allow enhanced studies into climate change and other fields.

The site reportedly “will be open to research by any country,” according to Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration. And according to the ScienceInsider blog, even American researchers are looking forward to using it.

Robin Bell, a glaciologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, told the site she hoped to use Taishan as a launch pad for probing the geological history of the Grove Mountains and the glaciology of the Amery Ice Shelf.

“[It's] a part of Antarctica we know very little about,” she said.

Taishan is to house as many as 20 people during the Antarctic summer from December to March and be unstaffed the rest of the year.

The base is a further sign of China's lofty scientific ambitions following the soft landing of a rover on the moon earlier this month. China also boasts the world's fastest supercomputer and is investing heavily in deep-sea exploration.

China currently operates two coastal bases year-round in Antarctica staffed by as many as 140 people during the summer, along with a high-altitude inland base that closes during the winter.

Great Wall Station, China's first, opened in 1985, more than 80 years after Argentina inaugurated the first continually staffed base. In 1983, China acceded to the Antarctic Treaty that guarantees freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on the continent.

The reports said workers constructing Taishan Station flew to the site by helicopter Wednesday from the icebreaker Xuelong, which is carrying 256 personnel, including two Thai scientists. The mission is China's 30th to the Antarctic and will also survey possible sites for the construction of a future fifth Antarctic base.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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