The US Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the United States’ largest icebreaker, has returned to her homeport in Seattle after a 127-day summer deployment to explore previously poorly understood aspects of the Arctic Sea. Among the many accomplishments of the expedition was the discovery of new jellyfish species, collection of data relevant to climate change science, and insights into the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea that could affect the United States’ territorial extent in the Pacific.
The first mission of the summer involved the Global Explorer, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that collected hundreds of living specimens, ranging from creatures living beneath the seafloor to microbial communities in the sea ice, for laboratory study. These are some of the most poorly understood ecosystems in the world, and the discoveries from the expedition are being hailed as groundbreaking.
The second mission deployed an array of deepwater acoustic devices to support scientists from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the Office of Naval Research. These devices are currently moored in the north to remotely collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean.The third and final mission involved work with scientists from the University of New Hampshire in support of NOAA, the State Department, and the White House Office of Science and Technology to hydrographically survey the extended continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea. More than 10,000 square miles of seafloor mapping data was collected, a necessary step to extend US territory and sovereign rights over the continental shelf. Two dredge operations were also conducted through six-plus-foot thick ice to collect geologic samples to fulfill an international agreement with Canada.
The 420-foot icebreaker is currently under the command of Captain Jason Hamilton. The Healy carries a crew of 87 Coast Guard men and women and her primary mission is scientific support. However, like Star Trek’s Enterprise, she is a versatile ship capable of other operations like search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection, and the enforcement of laws and treaties. For more info on what may be the world’s most interesting vessel, visit uscg.mil or icefloe.net. Welcome back, sailors.