Chinese scientists left Shanghai on Monday morning for the country's 24th scientific expedition to Antarctica.
The red exploration ship "Xuelong," or "snow dragon," carrying 91 members of the 188-strong expedition team and 40 crew members, left the Waigaoqiao Dock at around 10 a.m.
The rest of the explorers will arrive in Antarctica by air.
"The expedition will last for more than five months and we are expected to be back home on April 18 next year," said Shen Quan, Captain of Xuelong.
The scientific exploration ship "Xuelong," or "snow dragon" in Shanghai of east China Nov. 6, 2007.
"It's the largest scientific expedition team that China has sent to Antarctica and the expedition will lay the foundations for China's in-depth exploration of the Antarctic area," said Chen Lianzeng, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration.
The expedition team will fix the site of China's third scientific research station at the South Pole, a planned observatory with seven telescopes and one acoustic radar at Dome A, the highest point on the continent at 4,093 meters above sea level, said Chen.
The explorers will also conduct field research into bio-diversity, the ice shelf, climate change, Antarctic ice algae and krill, and environmental monitoring.
"We have made preparations to build a third station and once the site is located, construction will start soon. The whole project is expected to be completed by 2010," said Xu Xiaxing, a veteran of the expedition team on his eighth trip to the continent.
Six days ago, China sent 189 construction workers from the China Railway Construction Engineering Group to begin work on the biggest expansion of the two permanent Antarctic stations - Changcheng (Great Wall) and Zhongshan.
The workers will add facilities comprising a space observation station, garage, warehouse, garbage and sewage discharge system, boiler house, high-frequency radar room and oil tanker to the two stations.
To protect the environment, the construction group has built advanced sewage treatment systems and garbage burning facilities. Non-degradable and solid waste is shipped back home for treatment.
The Xuelong ship also carries more than 2,100 tons of steel for the Antarctic station expansion and vehicles and equipment for exploration.
The ship will stop by Chejudao in the Republic of Korea and Frementle in Australia for logistic supplies before it arrives at the Zhongshan Station.
China launched its first expedition to Antarctica in 1984 and, since then, such expeditions have been conducted on an annual basis.
According to the Polar Research Institute of China, 82 stations have been built on Antarctica and the continent receives more than 30 scientific expedition teams every year. Source:Xinhua