The Great Wall, unexpected stop for scientific leaders in Antarctica

The Great Wall, unexpected stop for scientific leaders in Antarctica

Binbin Wang and Li Wang, two of the eighty scientific leaders who travel the Antarctic on the ship "Ushuaia", are not happy after the unexpected visit to La Gran Muralla, the Chinese research base where they have managed to grow vegetables in extreme conditions.

On day 5 of the expedition, when all were ready to go to the Argentine station Carlini, there was a last minute change after confirming the entry of what is, until now, the largest group of women to the Chinese base The Great Wall, located on King George Island of Antarctica.

The visit "made me very proud of my country, it is the first time this season has hosted so many women scientists," Binbin Wang, program director at the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of Tsinghua University, told Efe.

Binbin is part of the expedition that sailed on December 31 from the port of the Argentine city of Ushuaia within the Homeward Bound, an Australian program supported by the Spanish Acciona, which seeks to give visibility to the leadership of women in matters of global interest such as climate change.

"I never thought we could visit this station before I arrived in Ushuaia, we contacted the station, we explained that we were an international group of women scientists and they welcomed us," Li said.

The Great Wall, which began operations in February 1985, was the first Chinese research station in Antarctica and it is currently conducting studies of polar ecology, biology, microbiology, vegetation, medical research, on the population of birds and their adaptation to ecosystem change, oceanography, rock sampling and Antarctic geology.

The tour of the base of the eighty women was pleasant, although brief and limited.

A guide led them through the exterior of the complex, where forty people live in summer and twelve in winter and which is made up of several buildings, among them the number 1, of an intense blue and an area of ​​175 square meters, and the telecommunications, which looks like a big white ball with a flat base. But none of them can access visitors.

Chinese scientists managed to create a greenhouse there, where they grow cucumbers and eggplants, so that the base community feels at home, said Binbin, "because in China they eat a lot of vegetables."

However, access to that site is also restricted and visitors to the expedition were left with the illusion of knowing it.

"As the seeds are not available in Antarctica and are brought from China, the controls are extensive in order to avoid any kind of dispersion in the white continent," according to this expert.

Having a greenhouse is a milestone in a place like Antarctica, where the temporary inhabitants of the bases receive food periodically in cargoes on boats, usually from Chile or Argentina.

In order to obtain a "harvest", the scientists of the station, located in an ice-free rock, managed to adapt the place to the extreme cold, the winds and, especially, the low intensity of light that characterize Antarctica.

"The idea is to maintain a temperature similar to that of Beijing or northern China during the summer, although in winter, the lack of light forces the greenhouse to close," said Li, a scientific researcher at the University of California at Davis (EE). .), By proudly highlighting this progress.

Since 1985, China has built four stations in Antarctica, two in the last decade.

"From this experience I feel very proud because I see that China is more and more open," said Binbin.

The Homeward Bound expedition departed on December 31 from Ushuaia, considered the southernmost city on the planet, and among the more than a dozen planned stops are the Argentine base Carlini, the American Palmer, the Ukrainian Vernardsky and the Pleneau Island, adjacent to a "cemetery" of icebergs.

The trip, which will last until January 19, has the participation of the Costa Rican Christiana Figueres, outstanding leader in the fight against climate change and women's empowerment.

Homeward Bound, supported by the Spanish infrastructure and renewable energy company Acciona, is a global initiative for women in the field of STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) with the aim of increasing their visibility as leaders in the world.

Diana Marcela Tinjacá


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