Last week, as China’s icebreaker, the Xuelong (“Snow Dragon”) set sail from the port of Qingdao, heading for the Arctic with an international crew on board, Greenpeace’s ship, the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace vessel, set sail from the US for the Arctic. The Arctic Sunrise has an international crew, including well-known Chinese singer, Hu Haiquan, part of the singing duo, Yu Quan.
According to media reports, the Xuelong is expected to be away for more than three months on scientific research, monitoring the impacts of climate change as well as documenting impacts to Arctic ecosystems. Meanwhile Greenpeace will monitor the operations of giant oil company Shell, off the coasts of Alaska, as well as start a month-long scientific expedition around Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
Of the two long voyages, perhaps the Arctic Sunrise will have a better shipboard choir thanks to Hu, on board, but both voyages have important and overlapping interests in the future of the Arctic.
Along with many other nations, China’s interest in Arctic affairs appears to be growing. Chinese experts are described by some as increasingly “acute observers of the region.” This interest may be linked to threats to the Arctic from climate change, as well as the potential for exploration and extraction of resources and the development of new shipping lanes.
According to the US Geological Survey, the Arctic is estimated to hold 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered, and technically recoverable, oil and gas resources.
Yet the Arctic is also home to many magnificent creatures, all bound up into an ecosystem that is completely dependent on the glaciers, sea ice and low temperatures. As the Arctic warms this ecosystem is facing a terrible threat, along with some remarkable wildlife: polar bears, Arctic foxes and the “unicorn of the sea,” narwhal whales, found nowhere else on Earth.
This stunning part of the world also plays a critical role in regulating the global climate.
It’s the world’s refrigerator, keeping us cool by reflecting the sun’s energy off its icy surface. But, as the ice melts, it accelerates global warming, threatening lives and livelihoods on every continent.