Ship Photos: U.S. Icebreaker ‘Polar Star’ Reaches McMurdo Station, Antarctica

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star backs and rams through dense ice off the Antarctic coast, Jan. 15, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star backs and rams through dense ice off the Antarctic coast, Jan. 15, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star arrived at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station Tuesday after cutting a resupply channel through more than 60 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea.

The path through the seasonal and multi-year ice helps the annual delivery of operating supplies and fuel for two of NSF’s three U.S. research stations in Antarctica.

The Polar Star is America’s only operational heavy icebreaker that is capable of conducting the Antarctic resupply mission. The cutter, which was built more than 40 years ago, has a crew of more than 140 people, is 399-feet long, weighs 13,500 tons and uses 75,000 horsepower to muscle its way through ice thicknesses of up to 21 feet.

The Coast Guard says that in previous years Polar Star typically worked through approximately 12 to 13 miles of ice to reach McMurdo Station. This year, however, there was more than 60 miles of ice to break with thickness ranging from two feet to more than 10 feet.

“We experienced a significantly larger ice field this year compared to the last several years,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, commanding officer of the Polar Star. “In several areas, the ice was under considerable pressure and covered with several inches of snow, slowing our progress. Despite these challenges, the crew worked around the clock to prepare the resupply channel before the arrival of the first ship.”

After refueling at McMurdo Station, the Polar Star crew will continue to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation of the first of two resupply ships, which are scheduled to arrive in the area in late January.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is homeported in Seattle.

The bow of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is covered in snow after weathering a whiteout windstorm with wind gusts of up to 130 mph off of Antarctica, Jan. 14, 2017. The crew of the Polar Star worked through the storm to establish a resupply route to the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The bow of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is covered in snow after weathering a whiteout windstorm with wind gusts of up to 130 mph off of Antarctica, Jan. 14, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) and crew create a navigable channel through the frozen Ross Sea off of Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2017. The 399-foot icebreaker is the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker capable of conducting Antarctic icebreaking operations. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) and crew create a navigable channel through the frozen Ross Sea off of Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker capable of conducting Antarctic ice operations, carves a channel in Antarctic ice near the coast of Ross Island, Jan. 16, 2017. The cutter is an integral part of the yearly operation to resupply the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker capable of conducting Antarctic ice operations, carves a channel in Antarctic ice near the coast of Ross Island, Jan. 16, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, with 75,000 horsepower and its 13,500-ton weight, is guided by its crew to break through Antarctic ice en route to the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, Jan. 15, 2017. The ship, which was designed more than 40 years ago, remains the world's most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, with 75,000 horsepower and its 13,500-ton weight, is guided by its crew to break through Antarctic ice en route to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Jan. 15, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star operates near two seals off the shore of Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2017. Seeing wildlife unique to Antarctica is one of the many highlights that the cutter’s crew experiences during their yearly deployment to the southern continent. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star operates near two seals off the shore of Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
A ring buoy sits at the ready as the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star conducts icebreaking operations off the coast of Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2017. Homeported in Seattle, the Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
A ring buoy sits at the ready as the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star conducts icebreaking operations off the coast of Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Photo