A large sheet of blue ice was spotted recently by China’s Antarctic expedition team on the continent, opening the possibility of building an airfield.
The area is 10 kilometers southwest of the expedition base camp near Zhongshan Station, the country’s scientific research station on the shore of Prydz Bay in East Antarctica, not far from the Russian Progress II Station.
Blue ice is some of the oldest and densest ice in Antarctica. Thanks to its hard surface, it’s suitable for building runways where aircraft with wheels, rather than skis, can land.
Whether this area is ideal for building an airfield is still under investigation, said Guo Xiaodong, who is responsible for media relations at the Polar Research Institute of China in Shanghai, the entity that oversees the country’s Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.
One of the missions of China’s expedition this year is to identify sites suitable for the country’s first airfield in the Antarctica, he said, adding that previous expeditions have also spotted sheets of blue ice.
Chinese researchers drilled into the ice to check its thickness, Xinhua News Agency reported.
“Blue ice has good bearing capacity, impact resistance and stability,” Xinhua quoted Sun Bo, the leader of the 35th Antarctic expedition team, as saying.
“China’s large transport aircraft — the Y-20 and Airbus, as well as Boeing’s long-range commercial planes — can all take off and land on a blue ice runway without modifying their landing gear,” he said.
Sun told China Daily before the expedition set off in early November that it had been using Russia’s airfield for the country’s polar aircraft Xueying (Snow Hawk) 601, a fixed-wing aircraft that can carry 18 passengers.
The aircraft has made experimental takeoffs and landings since 2015 on temporary runways near Taishan and Kunlun, the sites of other Chinese Antarctic stations.
There are currently eight blue-ice airfields in the Antarctica, operated by countries including the United States, Russia and Britain.