KING GEORGE ISLAND, Antarctica – Binbin Wang and Li Wang, two of 80 leading female scientists who were exploring Antarctica, are thrilled to have made an unexpected stop at the Great Wall station, a Chinese research base that has managed to grow vegetables in harsh conditions.
On day five of the expedition, when the group was all ready to go to Argentina’s Carlini Base, there was a last-minute change of plan that allowed the scientists access to the Chinese station, situated on King George Island.
Binbin Wang, program director at the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, told EFE the visit made her “very proud” of her country, pointing out it was the first time the base had welcomed so many women scientists.
She was participating in the Homeward Bound expedition, which left the Argentinian port city of Ushuaia on Dec. 31 and aims to boost the visibility of female leadership in topics of global interest, like climate change.
Li said she had thought it impossible to go to the station but after reaching out to the base and explaining a group of international female scientists would be interested in visiting, the station gave them the go ahead.
The Great Wall first began operating in February 1985 and it was China’s first research station in Antarctica.
Scientists at the station were carrying out studies about polar ecology, biology, microbiology, vegetation, medical research, the bird population and its adaption to changes to the ecosystem, oceanography, rock sampling and geology.
The 80 scientists received a friendly welcome at the base for their brief and limited visit.
A guide showed them around the outside of the complex, which houses 40 people in summer and 12 in winter and is composed of several buildings, including a large blue one named No. 1 and another for telecommunications.
The Chinese scientists at the base have also managed to set up a greenhouse, where they have been able to grow cucumber and eggplant, something that makes the researchers who work there feel more at home, according to Binbin.
Having a greenhouse is a feat in a place like Antarctica, where its temporary residents stationed at various bases mostly have to rely on food supplies being shipped in, usually from China or Argentina.
The idea was to maintain the temperature so that it was similar to that of Beijing or northern China, said Li, a researcher from the University of California, Davis.
Since 1985, China has build four stations in Antarctica, two in the last decade alone.
For Binbin, visiting the station filled her with pride because she was able to see that her country was becoming more open.
The Homeward Bound expedition will go on until Jan. 19.
Among those participating were Costa Rica’s Christina Figueres, a prominent leader in the fight against climate change and female empowerment.