An artist's rendering of the first polar icebreaker that will be built entirely in China.
Construction of a new polar icebreaker - the first to be built from the keel up by China - started at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai on Tuesday.
The new vessel, to be completed in 2019, will join Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, currently China's only polar icebreaker.
The new vessel will elevate China to a whole new level in terms of scientific research and transportation capacity for polar expeditions, said Yang Huigen, director of the Polar Research Institute of China.
Despite being smaller than Xuelong, the new vessel outperforms it and can continuously break ice as thick as 1.5 meters - with 0.2 meters of snow on top - at speeds of 2 to 3 knots.
The new vessel will be 122.5 meters long and 22.3 meters wide, with displacement of about 13,990 tons. It can carry up to 90 crew members.
Xuelong, in service for over two decades, is 167 meters long and 22.6 meters wide, and can cut through 1 meter of ice at 1.5 knots. It was built by a Ukrainian company in 1993 and refitted into a polar research vessel by China at a cost of 31 million yuan (.6 million). It entered service in place of the research vessel Jidi in 1994.
The new vessel has many advanced features, including blades to cut ice at both the bow and stern, enabling free movement in polar areas. Its design combines state-of-the-art technology, new functions and environmental protection features. It can travel at 12 to 15 knots (22.2 to 27.8 kilometers per hour) in oceans with a cruising endurance of 20,000 nautical miles.
The new vessel and Xuelong "will be used in different combinations ... in oceans near polar regions, and that will greatly promote China's scientific research in those areas", Yang added.
The vessel will have advanced expedition and observation equipment, strengthening comprehensive research on oceans, sea ice and the atmosphere. It will facilitate collection of samples related to climate change, and to the study of oil, gas and biologic resources. The ship can carry two helicopters.
Wu Gang, chief designer of the vessel at 708 Research Institute, part of China State Shipbuilding Corp, said on Tuesday that the Chinese institute is "deeply involved in the design of the vessel with Finland's Aker Arctic Technology Inc".
Jiangnan Shipyard (Group) Co, which has often repaired and modified Xuelong, won the bid for its construction in July, and signed a contract with the institute on Nov 30. The company said the new vessel, yet to receive an official name, is often called "Xuelong II".
Xuelong, meanwhile, is docked near China's Zhongshan station for its 33rd expedition to Antarctica. In September, it completed its seventh Arctic expedition.