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2023 in review: China's expeditions in Polar regions and Qinghai-Xizang Plateau

Liu Tianwen

2023 in review: China's expeditions in Polar regions and Qinghai-Xizang Plateau

People have always been drawn to the highest latitudes and altitudes, and the Chinese are no exception.

Over the years, China has explored Polar regions including the Antarctic, the Arctic and the Earth's Third Pole – Qinghai-Xizang Plateau. The country conducted scientific research in these regions in 2023 and achieved fruitful results.

As the year draws to a close, let's review some of China's discoveries from these regions.

China's Antarctic expedition

2023 saw the completion of the country's 39th Antarctic expedition, which began in the second half of 2022, and ushered in the 40th. 

Departing from the home port in east China's Shanghai on November 1, the 40th Antarctic scientific expedition team – comprising some 460 staff from more than 80 domestic institutions – arrived at the coastal areas of the Ross Sea in early December. The team began transferring supplies on board before starting the building of a new scientific research station, one of its major tasks.

The new station will be China's fifth scientific research station in Antarctica, the third perennial one following the Great Wall and Zhongshan stations, and the first facing the Pacific Ocean sector.

Once completed, it is expected to accommodate 80 expedition personnel in summer and 30 in winter, facilitating multi-disciplinary observation, monitoring and scientific research work on atmospheric environment, marine environment, biological ecology and other areas.


Meanwhile, an expedition team consisting of 28 members embarked on a journey from New Zealand on Monday for a scientific expedition in the Amundsen Sea of Antarctica.

The 40th Antarctic expedition will investigate the impacts and response of climate change on Antarctic ecosystems and conduct an in-depth study of the role Antarctica plays in global climate change.

It also emphasizes international cooperation, displayed in joint research in the frontier fields of Antarctic science and the Enderby Land aerial survey with countries like Norway and Australia.

Cooperation will also be carried out in logistics support with the U.S., the UK, Australia, Italy, South Korea, Russia, Chile and other countries.

China's Arctic Ocean expedition

After a 78-day voyage, China's 13th expedition to the Arctic Ocean returned to Shanghai on September 27, having completed a series of tasks addressing scientific issues. This included long-term monitoring of key environmental elements and a mid-ocean ridge survey in the areas of the Pacific sector, the Gakkel Ridge of the Central Arctic Ocean and the North Pole region.

Researchers collected a substantial amount of data and samples for both long-term observation and monitoring as well as major national scientific research. This will help gain a more precise understanding of the dynamics of sea ice and its thermodynamic processes.


A landmark achievement for Chinese researchers was reaching the North Pole aboard the icebreaker Xuelong-2 to conduct ice and marine investigations. It was the first time a Chinese vessel had ever reached this point, helping to fill a gap in the country's database about the North Pole region.

Along the way, long-term monitoring of key environmental elements was carried out in 49 stations, encompassing various tests on sea surface meteorology, sea ice, and ship stress, all resulting in a wealth of valid data.

Investigations were also undertaken on mid-ocean ridges, which are mountain systems on the ocean floor. Eight missions, including seismic surveys and geological sampling, were completed.

Scientists install equipment and collect samples in the Arctic region. /China Media Group (CMG)
Scientists install equipment and collect samples in the Arctic region. /China Media Group (CMG)

Scientists install equipment and collect samples in the Arctic region. /China Media Group (CMG)

Additionally, 44 national science and technology planning projects involving subjects such as sea ice, circulation and black carbon were completed.

In terms of international cooperation, the team successfully completed scientific research and international cooperation projects with Thailand and Russia as planned. It was the first time that a China-Thailand cooperation project was carried out in the Arctic Ocean expedition, shedding light on the study and management of global micro-plastic pollution.

The Third Pole 

On May 23, China's Peak Mission expedition reached the summit of Mount Qomolangma, or Mount Everest, at a height of 8,848.86 meters.

During the two-month expedition, starting from early April, the scientific research team completed multiple tasks. One notable achievement was the upgrade of the world's highest automatic weather station, situated at an altitude of 8,830 meters above sea level, which was initially established by China in May 2022.

Members of China's Peak Mission expedition at the summit of Mount Qomolangma, May 23, 2023. /CMG
Members of China's Peak Mission expedition at the summit of Mount Qomolangma, May 23, 2023. /CMG

Members of China's Peak Mission expedition at the summit of Mount Qomolangma, May 23, 2023. /CMG

Using technology applied on the moon, the team overcame power supply obstacles in extremely low temperatures and pressure.

The expedition obtained real-time data transmission and the latest temperature above 8,300 meters, providing support for environmental changes and ecological protection in the region.

The team, with over 170 members, focused on researching on synergy and influence of westerly winds and monsoons, changes in the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau (dubbed the "water tower of Asia"), ecosystems and carbon cycle, rare metal resources and human activities at the region.

Additionally, scientists collected snow and ice samples, drilled ice core at an altitude of 6,530 meters, surveyed the Rongbuk Glacier with a drone and detected greenhouse gases.


A Chinese expedition team targeted another peak exceeding 8,000 meters in altitude, Mount Cho Oyu, at the end of September and reached its summit on October 1.

Located on the China-Nepal border, Mount Cho Oyu, also known as Mount Qowowuyag, is the world's sixth-highest peak with an altitude of 8,201 meters.


The 18-member expedition team collected ice and snow samples and set up five automatic weather stations at altitudes of 4,950, 5,700, 6,450, 7,100 and 8,201 meters, respectively.

Both the 2023 Mount Qomolangma and Cho Oyu research missions are part of the second comprehensive scientific expedition on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, initiated in 2017. China conducted its first large-scale scientific expedition in the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau in the 1970s, completing a survey of more than 2.6 million square kilometers.

The progress and achievements China has made in Polar regions and the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau expeditions have not all been listed here, and even more is anticipated in the future.

(Cover: A rendering of China's fifth Antarctic research station. /CMG ; Graphic design: Li Wenyi)

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