Ice-cold science

Coast Guard Cutter Healy is 420-feet long and has extensive scientific capabilities.  Homeported in Seattle, the cutter has a permanent crew of 80. Photo courtesy of Ensign Holly McNair.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy is 420-feet long and has extensive scientific capabilities. Homeported in Seattle, the cutter has a permanent crew of 80. Photo courtesy of Ensign Holly McNair.

While many Americans took advantage of the last remnants of summer, crewmembers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the nation’s largest icebreaker, were exploring the Arctic. Healy was on their second of four missions for their Arctic West Summer-Winter deployment and was joined by the Canadian coast guard as they mapped the sea floor.

Healy, commissioned in 2000 and the nation’s newest polar icebreaker, is designed to break four and a half feet of ice continuously at three knots and can operate in temperatures as low as -50 degrees. For the fourth consecutive year Healy collaborated with Canadian coast guard icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent.

Click the above image to see hourly pictures from Coast Guard Cutter Healy at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Click the above image to see hourly pictures from Coast Guard Cutter Healy at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Healy has specialized scientific capabilities. One is an advanced multi-beam sonar – a system providing detailed information about the shape of the ocean floor. The Louis S. St. Laurent is also equipped for the mission with the capability to measure the character and thickness of seabed sediments through a seismic array. Because vibrations from icebreaking can affect the accuracy of these instruments, the ships take turns clearing a path and breaking the ice.

Healy’s 4,200-square feet of laboratory space, numerous electronic sensor systems and oceanographic winches were a perfect match for the scientists aboard. Over the course of their mission, the Louis S. St. Laurent and Healy surveyed more than 18,200 square nautical miles of the Arctic seafloor including the Nautilus Basin, Alpha-Mendeleev Ridge and the extended continental shelf.

It wasn’t just all underway operations on this mission, however. Healy and the Louis S. St. Laurent worked with the Raven, a small, unmanned, hand-launched aircraft. This science patrol was the first time the aircraft was tested in the Arctic as a tool for wildlife surveillance and reconnaissance and was launched off the back of the Louis S. St. Laurent. The Raven launched for seven successful missions and has the ability to take live airborne photos and log geographic location and compass headings on up to 90-minute flights.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Smith, right, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jared Morrison, both HC-130 Hercules airplane crewmen with Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, prepare a canister with equipment to be dropped to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis St. Laurent near the North Pole. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Smith, right, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jared Morrison, both HC-130 Hercules airplane crewmen with Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, prepare a canister with equipment to be dropped to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis St. Laurent near the North Pole. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

The mapping and scientific data provides critical insight not just for scientists but also for the Coast Guard. The Arctic remains a place of great challenge providing the Service a better understanding of how its assets and personnel perform their missions in the harsh, unforgiving terrain of the Arctic.

Upon the completion of its mission, Healy pulled in for a much needed port call in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. There is no rest for the weary though, as altogether Healy will spend a total of seven months this year underway in the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Healy is already deployed on their third patrol, an operation that will include deploying several types of hydrographic moorings, as well as recovering hydrographic moorings deployed on earlier missions. Their fourth and final operation will be a biology-based mission, studying the behavior of copepods in the winter months.

To follow along with Healy on the remainder of their mission, check out their webpage. To read more about the science mission, head to the journal from Capt. Andy Armstrong, chief scientist from the Joint Hydrographic Center.

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  • steph

    who do I talk to about this research project?