Geotraces 2015: Roaring north with Healy

This blog is part of a series of posts following Coast Guard Cutter Healy on their journey through the Arctic to the North Pole in support of Geotraces 2015. Stay tuned to learn more about the mission, the cutter and the crew!

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall

Coast Guard Cutter Healy cruises under cloudy skies in the Bering Sea Aug. 12, 2015, in support of the Geotraces mission.  Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy cruises under cloudy skies in the Bering Sea Aug. 12, 2015, in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Low clouds clung to the peaks of Unalaska on Aug. 9, as two tugboats eased the massive red hull of Coast Guard Cutter Healy out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska for an historic mission to the Arctic. Loaded heavy with stores, supplies, scientific equipment, and 145 souls, Healy headed north into the steel-gray waters of the Bering Sea.

Healy is supporting Geotraces, an international scientific mission seven years in the making, to create a baseline for the health of the world’s oceans. This summer’s mission will be part of the first Geotraces expedition to the Arctic Ocean.

It is the goal of the expedition to gather seawater, sediment, ice, and air samples at pre-determined stations reaching to the North Pole, making this journey particularly unique.

“This will be the first time in several years that we have operated in the highest regions of the Arctic,” said Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Healy. “In fact, an unaccompanied U.S. surface vessel has never reached the North Pole.”

In addition to Healy’s permanent Coast Guard crew, a 50-member, interdisciplinary team of scientists are onboard working together to meet the expedition’s many scientific objectives by pooling their knowledge of chemical, biological, and physical oceanography.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew members deploy a small boat crew during a man-overboard drill in the Bering Sea Aug. 9, 2015, in support of the Goetraces mission. Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew members deploy a small boat crew during a man-overboard drill in the Bering Sea Aug. 9, 2015, in support of the Goetraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Healy is well-suited to such expeditions, seamlessly filling dual roles both as a military cutter, capable of icebreaking, law enforcement, and search and rescue, and that of a research vessel, with scientist berthing, extensive lab spaces, and multiple oceanographic winches.

At 420 feet long and 82 feet wide, Healy is the Coast Guard’s largest cutter. Onboard you’ll find an impressive galley, large medical facility, science lounge, ship’s store, a library, and crews’ lounges, which all prove handy for a group who will be underway continuously for 65 days. Morale events are on-going for both the Coast Guard crew and science party, including trivia nights, movie marathons, and talent shows. Physical fitness classes and an oceanography course are also available to the crew.

As Healy heads further north to gather scientific samples, sea ice will become a constant companion. Ice in the northern latitudes greatly limits the reach of most research vessels. When scientists need to reach the furthest points in the Arctic, they board Healy.

Crewmembers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy help test a device designed to extract water samples and perform a variety of scientific tests in the Arctic Ocean Aug. 8, 2015, prior to getting underway for the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Crewmembers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy help test a device designed to extract water samples and perform a variety of scientific tests in the Arctic Ocean Aug. 8, 2015, prior to getting underway for the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

“First and foremost, we are the Unites States’ premiere, high-latitude research vessel,” said Hamilton. “We are a 16,000-ton, 30,000-horsepower icebreaker that is capable of breaking four and a half feet of ice at three knots and over 10 feet of ice when we back and ram. This enables us to provide access throughout the Arctic.”

As Healy’s passageways are bustling with crew members conducting rounds and scientists carrying samples to and from labs, the ship feels alive as we transit the Bering Sea. Each person dutifully does their part to move the expedition forward, never forgetting the significance of accessing and studying an increasingly-important Arctic region.

“The U.S. is an Arctic nation,” said Hamilton. “The Coast Guard has provided presence and access to the Arctic region since the 1860s – the time of Capt. Mike Healy. This ship, which carries his name, continues that proud tradition. This summer we will demonstrate how we continue to provide access to the furthest regions of the globe.”

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