The icebreaker Shirase, operated by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, left Tokyo’s Harumi pier bound for Antarctica on Sunday.

Most members of the 59th Antarctic expedition team will board the ship in Australia on Nov. 28. The Shirase will carry a total of about 180 crew members.

In 2007, a Japanese mission sampled 720,000-year-old ice at the nation’s Dome Fuji Station in inland Antarctica by drilling through the ice sheet to a depth of 3,035 meters. The team heading there at the end of the month will select a new drilling point with the aim of collecting even older ice.

A European expedition team in 2004 collected Antarctic ice dating back some 800,000 years. The coming Japanese mission will try to extract even older ice to set a new record.

Scientists expect that an analysis of Antarctic ice will allow them to better understand climate change in the past and predict future global warming.

The 59th team will also conduct atmospheric and marine observations, and research on penguins and other creatures.

The Shirase is slated to draw near Showa Station in Antarctica on Dec. 21 and will then start transporting nearly 1,000 tons of goods. The icebreaker is scheduled to leave Antarctica in mid-February and return to Japan on April 11.

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