The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica, Jan. 10, 2018. The crew of the Seattle-based Polar Star is on its way to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2018, the U.S. military’s contribution to the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen.

Operation Deep Freeze: A military operation

The capabilities of the United States military can assist scientific researchers discover more about our planet. One peacetime mission assisting in that realm is Operation Deep Freeze. Operation Deep Freeze is one of the military’s most challenging peacetime missions, as the environment in which the mission is conducted is harsh. Negotiating the frozen seas of the Antarctic region requires specialized equipment and skills, which is where the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star comes in.


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.

Introduction to Operation Deep Freeze 2018

The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the United States’ only heavy icebreaker has commenced its annual Operation Deep Freeze in contribution to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program. The Polar Star’s job is to forcibly clear a path through frozen waters for supply ships headed to Antarctica’s logistics hub, McMurdo Station.


Below Zero: A red hat for a cold mission

What started as a source of pride aboard the former Coast Guard Cutter Glacier in the mid 1970s, donning a red uniform ball cap, is now part of a right of passage for those who serve aboard icebreakers throughout the Coast Guard.


Below Zero: Overview of Operation Deep Freeze 2017

At the start of the new year, crewmembers from the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star found themselves on the other side of the world, headed to one of the least hospitable places on Earth, Antarctica. Polar Star’s primary mission is to enable cargo ships to resupply the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole stations on the southernmost continent.


A curious Adelie penguin stands near the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star on McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Jan. 7, 2016. During their visit to Antarctica for Deep Freeze 2016, the U.S. military's logistical support to the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program, the Polar Star crew encounters a variety of Antarctic marine life, including penguins, whales and seals. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Deep Freeze 2016: Reaching the bottom of the world

In short, there’s no single factor that makes the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s icebreaking possible. It’s an art that began with the first sketches of its blueprint and is still being perfected each time a new ice pilot qualifies to drive the 399-foot cutter. Each winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Polar Star’s normal operating area) the crew is run through an icy gauntlet that tests every element of the ship’s capability.


Chief Petty Officer Joshua Morris, a damage controlman in the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s engineering department, provides training during a flooding drill while underway in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Jan. 12, 2016. The damage control training team ensures that the crew is ready to respond in the event of actual damage. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Deep Freeze 2016: Ready for anything

We’ve all been through a fire drill or two. The screeching alarm starts, the teachers or office safety monitors lead us all to the nearest exit, and then we make sure everyone made it out. At worst it’s a hassle, and for the most part the drill makes sense. If the building you attend classes or work in is on fire, it’s nice to know the quickest route to the exit. Now imagine that your building is floating in the Southern Ocean. There is no neighborhood fire department, and the only way to evacuate is in an inflatable raft. Imagine that there’s a lot more to worry about, too: like too much of the Southern Ocean coming into the building.


Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis Curly and Petty Officer 3rd Class Preston Cummings, both boatswain’s mates in the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star deck department, operate one of the cutter’s boats near Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, Feb. 4, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Leonard.

Deep Freeze 2016: A history and purpose

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star crew pulled in their mooring lines and left Seattle over three months ago, as winter descended on their homeport. Through the Pacific Ocean, days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The icebreaker crossed into the Southern Hemisphere on a hot December day under the equatorial sun. Over the course of a month, summer faded into the perpetual chill of the Antarctic.


Coast Guard divers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star assist with Operation Deep Freeze 2016

Deep Freeze 2016: Under the ice

There’s no usual or routine for Operation Deep Freeze. At the bottom of the world, no matter your job, every day can bring a new problem to solve. Now the divers will be able to go home and pass off what they learned to next year’s dive team, who will take on the same mission and a new set of challenges.


Fireman Corin Gilbert, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s main propulsion division, records machinery readings during a security watch while underway in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Jan. 10, 2016. The security watchstander monitors equipment in the icebreaker’s machinery spaces. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Deep Freeze 2016: All in a day’s watch (Part 2)

Hopefully you have a better picture of what life is like aboard the Polar Star, and what it takes to operate it. The mission is still just beginning, so continue to check back as we look into the history and purpose of Operation Deep Freeze 2016, the art of icebreaking in Antarctica and many more glimpses into life on the south side of the planet.


The tools of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s quarter master of the watch sit on the cutter’s chart table while underway in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Jan. 9, 2016. The QMOW logs the cutter's movement, working closely with the officer of the deck. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Deep Freeze 2016: All in a day’s watch (Part 1)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star doesn’t sleep, not for a second. The cutter and its crew rotate through a daily cycle, like the Antarctic sun looking down on the icebreaker. Always moving, never setting. What’s going on above and below the deck? What does it take to run the nation’s only operational heavy icebreaker? There’s no better way to find out than living it. So join us for two days of 12-hour watch shifts: three four-hour watches from 8 a.m. (0800) to 8 p.m. (2000) each day. Start your coffee brewing; it’s going to be a long couple of days.


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