Coast Guard’s largest vessel reaches North Pole

Coast Guard’s largest vessel reaches North Pole
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 4:09 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2022 at 10:55 AM AKDT
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NORTH POLE (KTUU) - The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy became only the second American ship to make an unaccompanied stop at the top of the world when the icebreaker reached the North Pole on Friday.

While the trip to the extreme north is an exciting one for Coast Guard crews — who rarely get the opportunity to travel to such high latitudes — the mission also has major scientific and security implications.

“This rare opportunity is a highlight of our Coast Guard careers. We are honored to demonstrate Arctic operational capability and facilitate the study of this strategically important and rapidly changing region,” said Capt. Kenneth Boda.

Healy, a 420-foot long icebreaker, is both the biggest ship in the Coast Guard’s fleet and the nation’s largest icebreaker. It typically houses around 100 active duty crew members, but on this excursion, it carries an additional contingent of 34 scientists as part of a partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Patrols by military ships like Healy are occurring more often as incursions from Russian and Chinese vessels become more common in the circumpolar north. This patrol also carries a contingent of scientists to conduct oceanographic and meteorological research in the waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas on their way to the pole from its home port in Seattle.

This was the second Arctic mission of the summer, with the Healy traveling to the North Pole alongside researchers as part of the Synoptic Arctic Survey.

“SAS is an international collaborative research program focused on using specially equipped research vessels from around the world to gather data throughout the Arctic across multiple scientific disciplines,” a news release from the Coast Guard said.

According to Dr. Carin Ashjian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the information collected from this excursion may be the first of its type to be collected in the far north.

“We have little information from the ocean and seafloor at the top of the world so what we collect here is very valuable,” Ashjian said. “It also fills in data from a region, the western Central Arctic, which was not sampled by other ships in the SAS. Our joint efforts with the Healy crew are producing important science results.”

Before setting out for their next destination, crewmembers and scientists alike were granted ice liberty, allowing the opportunity to take commemorative pictures with a specially-placed marker at the top of the world.

Clarification: This article has been clarified to reflect that the mission to the North Pole was the second Arctic mission of the summer, and was done with researchers as part of the Synoptic Arctic Survey.