The newest episode of the Paratus Report is out! In this episode, we’ll talk about the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s recent deployment to Antarctica and say farewell to Coast Guard Cutter Sherman after nearly 50 years of service.
Tag: operation deep freeze
The capabilities of the United States military can assist scientific researchers discover more about our planet. One peacetime mission assisting in that realm is Operation Deep Freeze. Operation Deep Freeze is one of the military’s most challenging peacetime missions, as the environment in which the mission is conducted is harsh. Negotiating the frozen seas of the Antarctic region requires specialized equipment and skills, which is where the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star comes in.
The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the United States’ only heavy icebreaker has commenced its annual Operation Deep Freeze in contribution to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program. The Polar Star’s job is to forcibly clear a path through frozen waters for supply ships headed to Antarctica’s logistics hub, McMurdo Station.
What started as a source of pride aboard the former Coast Guard Cutter Glacier in the mid 1970s, donning a red uniform ball cap, is now part of a right of passage for those who serve aboard icebreakers throughout the Coast Guard.
At the start of the new year, crewmembers from the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star found themselves on the other side of the world, headed to one of the least hospitable places on Earth, Antarctica. Polar Star’s primary mission is to enable cargo ships to resupply the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole stations on the southernmost continent.
In short, there’s no single factor that makes the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star’s icebreaking possible. It’s an art that began with the first sketches of its blueprint and is still being perfected each time a new ice pilot qualifies to drive the 399-foot cutter. Each winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Polar Star’s normal operating area) the crew is run through an icy gauntlet that tests every element of the ship’s capability.
We’ve all been through a fire drill or two. The screeching alarm starts, the teachers or office safety monitors lead us all to the nearest exit, and then we make sure everyone made it out. At worst it’s a hassle, and for the most part the drill makes sense. If the building you attend classes or work in is on fire, it’s nice to know the quickest route to the exit. Now imagine that your building is floating in the Southern Ocean. There is no neighborhood fire department, and the only way to evacuate is in an inflatable raft. Imagine that there’s a lot more to worry about, too: like too much of the Southern Ocean coming into the building.
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star crew pulled in their mooring lines and left Seattle over three months ago, as winter descended on their homeport. Through the Pacific Ocean, days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The icebreaker crossed into the Southern Hemisphere on a hot December day under the equatorial sun. Over the course of a month, summer faded into the perpetual chill of the Antarctic.
There’s no usual or routine for Operation Deep Freeze. At the bottom of the world, no matter your job, every day can bring a new problem to solve. Now the divers will be able to go home and pass off what they learned to next year’s dive team, who will take on the same mission and a new set of challenges.
Hopefully you have a better picture of what life is like aboard the Polar Star, and what it takes to operate it. The mission is still just beginning, so continue to check back as we look into the history and purpose of Operation Deep Freeze 2016, the art of icebreaking in Antarctica and many more glimpses into life on the south side of the planet.