The USCG Cutter Healy in the Arctic

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the newest and most high-tech U.S. polar icebreaker, reached the North Pole on Sept. 5, making it the first U.S. surface ship to do so unaccompanied and only the fourth time an American surface vessel has reached the North Pole ever.

The cutter reached its destination after 28 days at sea, Alaska Dispatch News reported Sept. 8. The last time a U.S. surface ship made it to the North Pole was 10 years ago with the help of a Swedish icebreaker.

The boat, which is typically ported in Seattle, carried 145 people to the Arctic for a National Science Foundation-funded expedition in support of GEOTRACES, an international project that seeks to better understand the world’s oceans, according to a Sept. 8 announcement from the Coast Guard. Scientists will study the Arctic Ocean in the hopes capturing baseline measurements of air, ice, snow, sea water, meltwater and ocean bottom sediment, according to the press release.

The ship has more than 4,200 square feet of lab space to support scientific missions. Commissioned in 1999, the science community helped shape the layout and design of the vessel, says the Coast Guard.

Earlier this month, while visiting Alaska, President Obama announced that the government would accelerate the purchase of new Coast Guard icebreakers.

Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called Obama’s announcement “welcome news”, in commentary published Sept. 1.  Conley noted that the Healy is just one of two functional icebreakers, a heavy-ice breaker called the Polar Star is the other. A third is in “drydock disrepair” being “cannibalized for parts.”

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