Written by Lt. Keely Higbie
A team of scientists from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, New London, Connecticut, is currently underway aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy for a series of technology evaluations in the Arctic. The team departed Seward, Alaska, August 8 and is currently conducting operations off the North Slope.
The RDC is leading a multi-agency and international team to support Arctic Shield 2014, a 17th Coast Guard District initiative. The purpose of their month-long evaluation is to improve Coast Guard capabilities in the Arctic region, specifically in the areas of boat operations, communications, navigational safety and oil spill response.
“The RDC plays a key role in charting the service’s future efforts in the Arctic by evaluating new and emerging technologies for applicability to Coast Guard operations in a harsh and remote environment,” said Capt. Dennis Evans, commanding officer of the RDC.
The RDC has been examining boat operations in the Arctic since 2012. That year, the RDC identified and evaluated industry-available craft via a broad agency announcement that might have the characteristics necessary to operate in the Arctic’s unique environment. This summer, the RDC is collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory to assess improvements made to Coast Guard boats using commercial off the shelf products to enhance capability in a cold weather environment.
“Our need to reliably operate in the Arctic is rapidly increasing, but the equipment we’re testing for the Arctic Craft Project has been around for several years,” said Jason Story, Surface Branch research lead for the RDC.
By looking at available technologies we can present options which can be acquired quickly, and that means our vessels and our crews can be made ready to respond that much faster,” said Story.
The RDC is also assessing Arctic communications. Over the past year, the team has been modeling High Frequency, Very High Frequency, and Ultra High Frequency coverage in the Arctic region. While onboard the Healy, the team will validate their communications coverage models and use the information to improve future coverage predictions. Additionally, U.S. Northern Command and its contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., will help the RDC assess Mobile User Objective System satellite coverage at high latitudes. MUOS delivers secure voice and high-speed data to mobile users using an advanced waveform similar to cell phone technology. Understanding the extents of its coverage could have marked impacts on Arctic communications.
To help improve Arctic navigation, the RDC has partnered with the Marine Exchange of Alaska to provide critical Automatic Identification System infrastructure to help the Coast Guard transmit weather, ice and safety zone information to mariners through a cooperative research and development agreement.
“The ability to communicate weather, ice and other safety information is going to be vital to vessel traffic as more mariners look to northern waters as a means of passage, commerce or recreation. This is a tool that benefits anyone with a stake in the Arctic Ocean,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mike Turner, RDC Arctic navigation lead.
The RDC will also continue its study of oil spill response in ice. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the National Ice Center, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the University of Cambridge and the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory are providing personnel, unmanned technologies and resources to help the RDC better understand how to detect and track a simulated oil spill as it moves in the water near the ice edge.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has an observer onboard for this effort as well as key 17th Coast Guard District staff. “This exercise is critical to improving the Coast Guard’s understanding of how oil interacts with ice and will ultimately help decision makers understand how best to track and recover oil near the ice edge,” said Environment and Waterways Branch research lead Kurt Hansen.
“This year’s efforts, a series of independent technology evaluations supporting multiple separate projects, will provide Coast Guard decision makers with the necessary information to improve capabilities to address operational needs in the Arctic,” said Rich Hansen, Surface Branch chief and chief scientist for the science cruise aboard Healy.
The science team will wrap-up operations August 30, and will return to New London to deconstruct collected data.
Follow the team’s progress through the 17th Coast Guard District’s Blog.