China will begin a global deep-sea scientific exploration mission with its Jiaolong manned deep-sea submersible starting in 2020, an official from the State Oceanic Administration said as the sub returned home on June 23.
Sun Shuxian, deputy director of the administration, told reporters at a news conference on June 23 that the mission will begin around June 2020 and last about one year. It will cover the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, he said.
The grand mission is intended to strengthen China’s capability in surveying and researching the deep-sea environment and resources and will earn the nation a bigger say in this field, Sun said. The administration also regards it a gift for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in July 2021, he said.
No country has carried out such an extensive exploration mission, Sun said.
The mission will use a new mother ship for the submersible. Construction will begin soon on the ship and it will be put into use in 2019, he said. The new vessel’s displacement will be around 4,000 metric tons and it will be able to travel at least 11,000 kilometers during each journey, giving it greater capabilities than Jiaolong’s current mother ship, Xiangyanghong 09.
The Xiangyanghong 09 returned to its home port, the National Deep-Sea Base in Qingdao, Shandong province, on the morning of June 23, concluding the nation’s 38th oceanic expedition and the sub’s five-year trial run.
During the 138-day expedition that began on Feb 6, the mother ship sailed nearly 34,000 kilometers to the South China Sea and the northwestern Indian and northwestern Pacific oceans, while Jiaolong conducted 30 dives, according to a news release from the administration.
Researchers from the State Oceanic Administration, Ministry of Education, Chinese Academy of Sciences and China Geological Survey had the Jiaolong collect 624.6 kilograms of seabed rocks, 5,968 liters of seawater as well as 2,115 marine creatures.
It made five dives each in the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest known trench, and Yap Trench, both in the western Pacific Ocean. These operations have enabled scientists to better understand the trenches’ geochemical and biological conditions, according to the news release.
Yu Hongjun, head of the National Deep-Sea Base Management Center, said the recent expedition boosted China’s efforts in exploring and developing seafloor mineral resources and its research in oceanography and marine biology.
Now, Jiaolong will receive a yearlong overhaul and technical upgrade before starting its formal operating period, which will involve travel farther from China and deeper in the ocean and include more dives each year, he said.
Liu Feng, an official from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association, under Sun’s administration, said the country is also doing preliminary research on the construction of a manned deep-sea station that, initially, would be able to remain up to 15 days at a depth of 1,000 meters with 12 crew members.
Named after a mythical dragon, Jiaolong is China’s first manned deep-sea research submersible. It was developed by Chinese designers starting 2002 and entered service in 2010, making China the fifth country with deep-sea exploration technology, after the United States, France, Russia and Japan.
During a test dive in June 2012, Jiaolong made its deepest dive－to 7,062 meters－in the Mariana Trench. During its trial run, the submersible made 152 dives.