Arctic Ocean – U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy arrived at the North Pole on September 5 becoming the first U.S. surface ship to do so unaccompanied as submarines normally follow ships underneath the ice. This is also only the fourth time a U.S. surface vessel has ever reached the North Pole and the first since 2005.

The tripulation of 145 people departed from Alaska on August 9 and made the journey in less than a month arriving one week ahead of schedule.

USCGC Healy (WAGB-20) is a United States Coast Guard research icebreaker commissioned in 1999. She is classified as a medium icebreaker by the U.S. Coast Guard. Credits: Wikipedia

Healy is the United States’ newest high-latitude vessel. A 420-foot, 16,000-ton, 30,000-horsepower icebreaker, capable of breaking over ten feet of ice. In addition to Coast Guard’s regular missions, it also functions as a research platform with extensive laboratory spaces.  For the 50 scientists on board of the Healy, one of the greatest surprises was the condition of the ice found in the North Pole. They attempted to gather ice samples and measurements while on the voyage, and found slushy conditions, instead of solid ice, until they were within 100 miles of the North Pole.

“It’s hard to believe how slushy the ice has been so close to the pole; this was the first area we were confident enough in the ice conditions to allow on-ice science experiments […] Despite being thick, the ice we encountered further south was simply too soft and unstable to safely put individuals on” they wrote.

The icebreaker departure to the North Pole as part of the international effort GEOTRACES, conceived to study the geochemistry of the world’s oceans to meet a series of scientific goals like the creation of baseline measurements of the air, ice, snow, seawater, meltwater and ocean bottom sediment. The mission was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Climate change continues to be a resonating topic as it has been, for some time now, changing the landscape of the Arctic region. Even as this opens up the area for new opportunities, like the Healey, it also raises concerns and international rivalries as the U.S. struggles to assert itself not only in the Arctic but also in space. (See Russia and U.S. tensions rise over the Arctic Circle)

“As the Arctic region continues to open up to development, the data gathered onboard Healy during this cruise will become ever more essential to understanding how the scientific processes of the Arctic work, and how to most responsibly exercise stewardship over the region,” said the Coast Guard in a statement.

Russia has continued to grow its influence in the Arctic. Last month, Russia submitted a claim to the United Nations to expand its territory by some 463,000 square miles of the Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 350 nautical miles from the country’s shore.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard