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The United States’ only medium icebreaker has marked its third visit to the top of the world.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) reached the North Pole last Friday after traversing the frozen Arctic Ocean. The voyage marks only the second time a U.S. ship has reached the location unaccompanied, the first being Healy in 2015.
Healy and crew departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in early September for the journey to latitude 90 degrees north. This is the third time Healy’s traveled to the North Pole since its commissioning in 1999.
“The crew of Healy is proud to reach the North Pole,” said Capt. Kenneth Boda, commanding officer of the Healy. “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.”
Healy is currently on a months-long, multi-mission deployment to conduct oceanographic research at the furthest reaches of the northern latitudes. Throughout the transit to the North Pole, the cutter and crew supported oceanographic research in collaboration with National Science Foundation-funded scientists.
USCGC Healy, which departed its Seattle homeport on July 11, currently has thirty-four scientists and technicians from multiple universities and institutions aboard, and nearly 100 active duty crew members.
The 420-foot icebreaker is the largest ship in the Coast Guard and is capable of breaking through four-and-half feet of ice at a continuous speed of three knots.
During the cutter’s first Arctic leg of the patrol throughout July and August, Healy traveled into the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, going as far north as 78 degrees. As a part of the Office of Naval Research’s Arctic Mobile Observing System program, Healy deployed underwater sensors, sea gliders and acoustic buoys to study Arctic hydrodynamics in the marginal and pack ice zones.
“We are excited to reach the Pole!” said Dr. Carin Ashjian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Dr. Ashjian serving alongside Dr. Jackie Grebmeier as co-chief Scientists onboard Healy with support from the National Science Foundation. “We have little information from the ocean and seafloor at the top of the world so what we collect here is very valuable. 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.”
Healy’s voyage north also supported U.S. national security objectives for the Arctic region by projecting a persistent ice-capable U.S. presence in U.S. Arctic waters, and patrolling our maritime border with Russia.
The USCGC Healy is one of two operational icebreakers in the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet, along with the 45-year-old heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star. By comparison, Russia currently operates more than 50 icebreakers – several of which are nuclear powered.
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