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"Polar Pioneer" - Liu Xiaohan, The Chief Polar Sci
浏览次数:2684次 更新时间:2020-12-02

 By Sophie Guo Partially photographed by Wang Zhihui(Sail on Ice)

Liu Xiaohan

He is a famous geologist, a national scientist with outstanding contributions, a researcher at the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a doctoral supervisor. He graduated from the Languedoc-Roussillon Universities geology major in France in 1983 with a Doctorate of Science (Structural Geology) diploma. In 1984, he returned to the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to engage in scientific research. Since 1984, he had been to Antarctica several times, led and participated in Chinese first Antarctic expedition, participated in the construction of the Great Wall Station, and was awarded second class honors. During the first expedition to the Arctic region in 1995, which was hosted by the Chinese Association for Science and Technology and organized by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he was Beijing's commander-in-Chief. In 1998, Liu Xiaohan led a team of four people to successfully climb Mount Grove in Antarctica for the first time, becoming the world's first scientific research team to enter the region.



He is the man who once measured the Antarctic with his feet and condensed the magnificence of life into the light of wisdom between the ice and snow......

Every time I returned from Europe, my French friend and I made sure to have a meet-up with none other than Mr. Liu Xiaohan and his best partner. It's been at least a dozen years looking back. Perhaps for some people, it is hard to imagine that this gentle and elegant man in front of them is a "real tough guy" who has "polar expeditions" experiences and measured the Antarctic continent more than a few times! It's even harder to imagine that this "Antarctic Pioneer" had signed a safety waiver to lead a team in constructing China's first scientific research station in Antarctica, the Great Wall Station. You could say that he witnessed the history of Chinese polar science research! He is the kind of man who has seen the magnificence of the heavens and the earth but has condensed the vastness into the light of wisdom.


During our meetings, I like to listen to his stories. His unresolved connection with Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the time he saw a bear. There are seven species of penguins in the Antarctic, and at Penguin Island, you can see Adélie penguins and Gentoo penguins. You can watch them raise and educate their offspring; photograph and observe them swimming in the water closely. The most beautiful penguins are the 1.3 meters tall Emperor penguins but don't trespass on their formation, or they could trample you! He said that there are many beautiful ice caps around the Great Wall Station. He also said our country built the Zhongshan Station in the Antarctic circle more than 3,000 kilometers from the Great Wall Station. The natural conditions are even worse there; the temperature was often less than 50 degrees Celsius below zero. It was freezing, and if you pour a cup of hot water, it could become ice beans when the water fell. You can use raw eggs as a ball to play even on the inside because they were solidly frozen. He also challenged the gate of hell through Grove Mountain Range's ice crevasses, which were like broken glasses. "The ice crevasses are like a smooth wall, and once you fall in, you're like a tomato. You will end up stuck in it and become unrecognizable. Some ice crevasses are so wide that once a car goes up, it will fall into an abyss more than 2,000 meters on average with no chance of survival." he talked about the significance and value of Kunlun Station, China's sixth research station in Antarctica, at the highest point of Dome A. The South Pole is occupied by the United States first; the ice point is occupied by Russia (former the Soviet Union); France occupies the magnetic point, and Dome A is one of its kind......


Antarctica is like a paradise for pilgrims in scientists' eyes, and countless research scholars are fascinated by its mysteries and unknowns. For decades, what has fascinated Liu Xiaohan is not the dreamy scenery and wonders of Antarctica, but because Antarctica, as the coldest pole on earth, has too much magic and precious scientific research value. The scientists had a mission to investigate Antarctica; it was not a tourist attraction you see when you join a tour group nor a trip arranged by tour guides; they faced challenges and overcome all the difficulties and dangers.


He has walked away from the brink of death countless times...... Back in 1998, he led a team of four people to summit Grove Mountain Range successfully, challenged the gates of hell "ice crevasses zone," and became the world's first scientific expedition into the region. The following year, Liu Xiaohan led a team of 10 people to conquer Grove Mountain Range successfully again and obtained a large amount of scientific data.


The Antarctic continent is covered with snow and ice, but some mountains emerge from the ice cap and are known as the nunatak. Grove Mountain Range, a mountainous area about 460 kilometers from the South Pole Zhongshan Station, are covered with blue ice, with undulating icebergs and jutting island peaks, and were one of the few areas in Antarctica at that time that had not been a subjected to scientific research by any country.


The conditions were quite difficult and dangerous, and many conditions were not able to be met. "No map, no nothing." The leader of the Polar Office gave Liu Xiaohan three tasks. One of the tasks was to find Grove Mountain Range; another one was that they had to be alive. 


They had to eat as much as they could at breakfast every day, because they couldn't return at noon. Because of the midnight sun, it was never dark, and as long as they didn't encounter a snowstorm, they worked all the time. For more than two months, each person was issued two wet paper towels every day, one to wipe their face and hands, and one to wipe their feet and body. The most painful thing was to go to the toilet when it was 30 to 40 degrees Celsius below zero; everyone had frostbite and had to shed seven or eight layers of skin.


When crossing the Grove Mountain Range, ice crevasses were the greatest danger, and they are every traversers' terrible nightmare. Due to the complex and unpredictable terrain under the ice and the ice cap's uneven flow, ice crevasses would appear from time to time, and every step forward required extreme caution, especially that the ice crevasses on the ice cap were hidden and covered with thick snow all year round, which was indistinguishable from the snow surface in the ice crevasse-free zone. When the weather was terrible, especially during whiteout conditions, it was impossible to distinguish the ice crevasse from solid ice, and it was perilous to take any step forward.


They were determined to win by taking risks. In addition to speeding the car up to across the 1.5 meters wide or even wider ice crevasse with their eyes closed because they had no other choice, they also had to go in ice crevasses to gather ice. On February 9, 2000, the last day of their second trip to Grove Mountain Range, they completed the first Chinese expedition deep inside the ice crevasse. There was no experience to draw from at the time, and the potential dangers were obvious. Although back in 1986, Liu Xiaohan had gone inside the ice crevasse at the top of the Collins Ice Cap near the Great Wall Station, this time was of different significance. In the end, they cooperated and completed their mission successfully.


Why challenge Grove Mountain Range? Liu Xiaohan said, "Antarctic winds are powerful, the snow on these mountains is vaporized. I had applied for an expedition to Grove Mountain Range back and forth for almost ten years because I presumed that we would find many meteorites there. 90% of the meteorites currently found by humankind come from the Antarctic. The earliest found was in 1967 when the Japanese started looking and had found more than 20,000 pieces; Americans had found more than 10,000 pieces with the help of Japan later; Europe had found 500 pieces in total.  Although Australia's technology is advanced, they only found one in decades by the first few original explorers; China had gone to Grove Mountain Range twice and found more than 9,800 pieces, and if we go back this year, we are expected to surpass America."


The probability of falling meteorites is the same worldwide, but meteorites are easily weathered, and their natural life span is only about 100 years. The meteorite will be preserved for a long time when it enters the ice and snow in the Antarctic. However, the ice cap is slow-moving, so snow and ice can carry meteorites around Antarctica, and when they encounter mountains, they may be blocked, so they are easiest to be found near the nunatak. He is a scientist keen to let people know about science and recorded the Meteorite's Life: Identification and Collection. Without a doubt, he is the most professional authority on meteorites and another version of Man From Another Star.


In the 25th Antarctic expedition, Liu Xiaohan was tasked with the most important mission of setting up China's first inland research station, Kunlun Station, in the Dome A on the Antarctic ice cap. During the 1991 International Antarctic Research Commission Scientific Assembly, professor Liu and Qin Dahe, the first person to cross the Antarctic in China, fought hard for the most critical and most challenging route among the 17 scientific research routes.

Dome A has two outstanding values: first, it can hit the deepest ice cores in Antarctica and thus have a deeper understanding of the earth's past climate. Currently, some countries can grasp about 400,000 years of meteorological history by collecting ice cores in Antarctica, but the ice cores they collect will not be more valuable than the Dome A's because the ice cores collected on Dome A may contain more than one million years of meteorological information. Moreover, Dome A is essential for astronomical observation, and China currently has the lead in world's research on it. Another point is that the lowest temperature ever measured in Antarctica was 89.6 degrees Celsius below zero at the Russian Eastern Station, and if measurements are taken in the Dome A, it should be possible to break this record.


For more people to understand Antarctica and answer their doubts, Liu Wenhan has focused on science popularization. He appealed to the scientific community: "First-rate scholars should popularize science." He advocates breaking the outdated concept of first-class scientists doing scientific research, and second-class scientists popularize science in China. He has published many results of his Antarctic expeditions in books, providing the general public with valuable opportunities to learn about Antarctica. His books tell stories from long voyages, the Zhongshan station and the animals around it, to the expedition to Grove Mountain Range, from walking the ice cap, plunging into the ice crevasse to searching for meteorites, to let the silent stones tell their immortal secrets... A series of books, illustrated with pictures, reveals the cold wonderland at the end of the world --Antarctica's mysteries. The books systematically introduce the history, biology, and climate of Antarctica. Through persistence and hard work, Liu Xiaohan's path to popularizing science has also been very successful. Many years ago, his books had won the China Bing Xin Literature Award, the nomination of Third National Book Award, and other significant awards, deeply recognized by the scientific community and the public. On the road to the popularization of science after that, he always did his best, and if you search his name on the Internet, you can see valuable content about science popularization.


Epilogue: Some time ago, when we met up with Mr. Han again, we played "Sail on Ice"....... He and his best partner Mr. Zhou are actively helping to promote the ice and snow program for the upcoming Winter Olympics in China.

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