Members of Chinese Antarctic exploration team release the sounding balloon to forecast weather change, in Antarctica, Jan. 6, 2014. Trapped Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong warmed up its engine and tried to broaden an "ice-breaking runway" on Monday, preparing for a possible westerly wind favorable for its breaking-out. (Xinhua/Zhang Jiansong)
ABOARD XUELONG, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Trapped Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong on Monday is continuing to make the necessary preparations for possible escape from heavy sea ice in the next 48 hours.
Starting from early morning Tuesday, Xuelong will enforce a 48-hour highest-level emergency state, closely monitoring the movements of surrounding floes and icebergs and standing ready to break through.
Wu Jianjie, chief engineer of Xuelong, told Xinhua on Monday that all machines on the icebreaker are operating well.
Experts from China's National Marine Environment Forecasting Center (NMEFC) said that until Wednesday, the area where Xuelong is trapped will be affected by a warm wet air current from the north and see a westerly wind hopefully create favorable conditions for Xuelong to break through.
The icy edge of the area, six km east of Xuelong, has begun to loosen, and some small ice-free pools have appeared in the area.
The experts added that the icebergs near Xuelong do not currently pose any threat to the vessel, however, an unfavorable south-easterly wind is expected on Thursday.
Xuelong has been making preparations to free itself, warming up its engine and broadening an "ice-breaking runway" by sailing back and forth over a kilometer.
The icebreaker has been trapped in the area since Friday, one day after its helicopter Xueying evacuated all 52 passengers from the stranded Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.
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