The scientific research ship Dayang Yihao (Ocean No.1) set off on Monday from the eastern coastal city of Qingdao. The occasion is worth marking since part of the trip will be led by Han Xiqiu, an ocean scientist and China's first female chief scientist for maritime exploration.
"The 220-day journey will consist of six different phases, and each phase will have its own chief scientist," said 38-year-old Han, a renowned researcher on seabed science with the Second Institute of Oceanography of the State Oceanic Administration.
Han will board the ship prior to the Spring Festival, China's lunar New Year that is to fall on February 18, while the ship navigates the Indian Ocean.
Researchers will monitor and map the ocean floor for potential deep-sea mining operations and conduct deep-sea biological research. The research will cover the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean, the southwest Pacific Ocean and the western part of the Pacific Ocean.
"We are expecting to find new areas of sea floor with positive signs of hot liquid sulfides," said Han. Scientists refer to these "thermal vents" as "black chimneys."
Han explained that "black chimneys" are greatly important to the study of marine resources and the origins of life since signs of life have been found around the phenomena.
"First-hand data about life formations near thermal vents are also a focus of the research mission, as biological gene study in this extreme environment may help in the fight against human diseases," she said.
Han said that studies of the distribution of hot liquid sulfides on the sea floor will provide data to follow up Dayang Yihao's previous mission.
On January 23, 2006, after a transoceanic voyage, Dayang Yihao returned home with over a ton of hydrothermal sulfide samples containing copper, zinc and precious metals such as gold and silver, after 300 days at sea.
Setting off from Qingdao in April 2005, Dayang Yihao traveled 43,230 nautical miles (79,975 kilometers), sailing the Pacific and joining the Atlantic through the Panama Canal. It then traveled to the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope before returning to the Pacific through the Straits of Malacca, and completed its round-the-globe voyage.
"More than 150 pieces of sea floor with hot liquid sulfides have been found worldwide, but we Chinese have done little," Han said.
China began oceanic science research in the 1970s and drew up its oceanic mine resource plan in 1984. China has since established hi-tech work platforms for deep-sea mineral exploitation, transportation and smelting.
Dayang Yihao, China's major oceanic science research vessel, was launched in 1995.
Up until now, Dayang Yihao has never had a female chief scientist. "Life aboard a research ship is not normal," Han said. "You've got to work, work and work and there is no perception of time, even though the days on the calendar change."
(Xinhua News Agency January 10, 2007)