Introduction to Operation Deep Freeze 2018

Written by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star reached the edge of the ice surrounding Antarctica approximately 15-miles north of the U.S. National Science Foundation's McMurdo station, January 8, 2018. The crew will attempt break through the 15-mile stretch of sea ice in McMurdo Sound, sometimes as much as 10 feet in thickness, to resupply the NSF research facilities there during Operation Deep Freeze. ODF is the U.S. military's contribution to the NSF-managed, civilian U.S. Antarctic Program, and one of the most difficult U.S. military peacetime missions due to the harsh environment in which it is conducted. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Ensign Christopher Popiel.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star reached the edge of the ice surrounding Antarctica approximately 15 miles north of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s McMurdo station, Jan. 8, 2018. The crew will attempt break through the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, sometimes as much as 10 feet in thickness, to resupply the NSF research facilities there during Operation Deep Freeze. ODF is the U.S. military’s contribution to the NSF-managed, civilian U.S. Antarctic Program, and one of the most difficult U.S. military peacetime missions due to the harsh environment in which it is conducted. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Ensign Christopher Popiel.

Antarctica. It’s an ice desert full of wonder, mystique and beauty. Its harsh conditions are home to a select few animal species and a few hundred researchers and support personnel, and occasionally, the 150 crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star.

The Seattle-based Polar Star left home in December 2017 en route to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2018, the U.S. military’s contribution to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star crew members, along with members of the Christchurch City Council and the New Zealand Fire Service, perform community service, Dec. 30, 2017, in Christchurch, New Zealand. The volunteers tended trees planted there following a February 2017 wildfire. The crew visited New Zealand on its way to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star crew members, along with members of the Christchurch City Council and the New Zealand Fire Service, perform community service, Dec. 30, 2017, in Christchurch, New Zealand. The volunteers tended trees planted there following a February 2017 wildfire. The crew visited New Zealand on its way to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

As the only operational heavy icebreaker in the entire United States’ fleet, it is the Polar Star’s job to forcibly clear a path through frozen waters for supply ships headed to Antarctica’s logistics hub, McMurdo Station. It’s those summertime supply deliveries that allow the station to stay operational year-round, including during the dark and tumultuous winter.

McMurdo, one of three Antarctic stations operated year-round by NSF, is home to the largest laboratory in Antarctica, the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center. McMurdo also serves as a staging area for teams headed to Earth’s geographic south pole, which is home to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, and deep-field research camps.

Nearly a 1,000 people call McMurdo their summer home during the southern hemisphere’s warmer months. The work done there is the result of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty System, which laid the groundwork for international and interagency cooperation for science and discovery. For nearly 60 years, the Treaty has set aside national territorial claims and designated Antarctica as a sanctuary for ecological conservation and scientific research.

Ensign Tasha Bull stands watch on the bridge of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star as it transits out of Lyttelton, New Zealand, Jan. 3, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

Ensign Tasha Bull stands watch on the bridge of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star as it transits out of Lyttelton, New Zealand, Jan. 3, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

“It takes a lot of hard work by the crew and the Coast Guard support community to maintain the cutter and get it ready for the next Deep Freeze,” said Polar Star’s Commanding Officer Capt. Michael Davanzo.

The Polar Star is scheduled for its annual drydock availability upon returning back to the United States, meaning the ship comes completely out of the water in order to effect necessary repairs. Confronting such extreme conditions takes a toll on the 41-year-old Polar Star, which is the only Coast Guard cutter to go into drydock every year.

Walter Clark of the National Ice Center delivers an ice condition report during a weather briefing aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, Jan. 4, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

Walter Clark of the National Ice Center delivers an ice condition report during a weather briefing aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, Jan. 4, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

“The raw, desolate beauty of Antarctica is inspiring,” said Davanzo. “A lot of us chose this assignment as an opportunity to experience the world’s most isolated continent. I certainly enjoy the challenge of ice breaking in this harsh environment and it’s something I’ll always cherish.”

A seal watches as the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star steams through thick ice floes near Antarctica towards the U.S. National Science Foundation's McMurdo station, Jan. 8, 2018. The crew of Polar Star will attempt to break through more than 15 miles of ice in McMurdo Sound, sometimes as much as 10 feet in thickness, to resupply NSF facilities there during Operation Deep Freeze. ODF is the U.S. military's contribution to the NSF-managed, civilian U.S. Antarctic Program, and one of the most difficult U.S. military peacetime missions due to the harsh environment in which it is conducted. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Ens. Christopher Popiel.

A seal watches as the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star steams through thick ice floes near Antarctica towards the U.S. National Science Foundation’s McMurdo station, Jan. 8, 2018. The crew of Polar Star will attempt to break through more than 15 miles of ice in McMurdo Sound, sometimes as much as 10 feet in thickness, to resupply NSF facilities there during Operation Deep Freeze. ODF is the U.S. military’s contribution to the NSF-managed, civilian U.S. Antarctic Program, and one of the most difficult U.S. military peacetime missions due to the harsh environment in which it is conducted. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Ens. Christopher Popiel.

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