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Press Release | Aug. 26, 2023

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, National Science Foundation embark on Arctic Ocean mission

KODIAK, Alaska – U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) crew and embarked researchers departed Kodiak, Saturday, for the cutter’s second mission this year in the high latitudes of the Arctic Ocean. 

Healy’s next mission takes the cutter west, where the crew and a new team of researchers will support work of the National Science Foundation and International Arctic Research Center by servicing the Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational System (NABOS).  The month-long mission’s objective is to recover, service, and deploy nine long-term subsurface mooring arrays, stretching from the Eurasian Basin to the East Siberian Sea.   

These moorings will give insight into the how water from the Atlantic Ocean is being introduced into the Arctic at the shelf water level, deep basin interior, and the upper ocean; as well as help develop an understanding of water circulation in the region. Another key capability Healy will provide is the ability to execute Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) casts, sampling the water column in areas normally inaccessible due to pack ice.  

“The Siberian Arctic, one of the regions of the Arctic where changes in sea ice and ocean are currently most noticeable, will be the area of this high-latitude mission onboard the Healy,” said Igor Polyakov, NABOS project lead. “However, this region is also one of the least observed, making this cruise crucial if we want to create a trustworthy observing and forecasting system.” 

The NABOS project’s foundational goal since beginning in 2002 is to gain understanding of the circulation and the transformation of Atlantic waters into the Arctic Ocean. Missions from 2021 to 2025 are directed at quantifying the freshwater introductions and their impact on the transportation of heat from Atlantic waters into the region.   

With these observations, NABOS looks to inform the scientific community and public on the potential impacts to Arctic sea-ice coverage and marine ecosystems, and the expanding effect on the mid-latitudes. The success of NABOS since its earliest days has always been reliant on international partnerships, researchers of diverse backgrounds, and assets like Healy achieving the results for which the project is known. 

During July and August, the Healy’s mission supported and collaborated with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) experts from across a broad spectrum of disciplines, deploying and servicing instruments for ONR’s Arctic Mobile Observing System (AMOS) in the Beaufort Sea.   

Under the leadership of U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Michele Schallip, Healy’s commanding officer and mission chief scientist, Dr. Craig Lee, Healy’s crew and research teams completed an array of science stations, including mooring very low frequency acoustic devices to the sea floor, deploying subsurface gliders, and conducting science equipment installations on ice floes.  

The naturally hazardous environment of the Arctic required Healy to remain on-scene for lengthy periods to ensure proper function of instrumentation. In one instance, the ship was forced to send a repair part to the ice after a polar bear damaged equipment overnight. Healy’s unique capabilities are essential to the AMOS program, being the only U.S. platform able to provide researchers with access to the most remote reaches of the Arctic Ocean. 

In addition to the NABOS and AMOS missions, the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center is running and coordinating numerous scientific research efforts for the U.S. Coast Guard and partner research organizations. These projects will focus on several key areas pertaining to Arctic operations, including search and rescue, communications, crew performance, and atmospheric monitoring and characterization. The expanded knowledge base this research will provide will help the U.S. Coast Guard and partners improve Arctic operations and systems. 

Healy is the Coast Guard’s only icebreaker specifically designed for Arctic research, as well as the nation’s sole surface presence routinely operating in the Arctic Ocean. The platform is ideally specialized for projects like NABOS; providing access to the most remote reaches of the Arctic Ocean; areas barricaded by pack ice and insurmountable by most research vessels.  

The Healy deploys annually to the Arctic to support multiple science missions and Operation Arctic Shield, the service’s annual operation to execute U.S. Coast Guard missions, enhance maritime domain awareness, strengthen partnerships, and build preparedness, prevention, and response capabilities across the Arctic domain. 

Commissioned in 1999, and homeported in Seattle, Healy is the largest ship in the U.S. Coast Guard at 420-feet with a displacement of over 16,000 tons. The crew compliment of 84 supports the ship’s primary mission of scientific support. It is one of two active polar icebreakers in the Coast Guard’s fleet. The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) is a Polar icebreaker commissioned in 1976. 

The Coast Guard is recapitalizing its Polar icebreaker fleet to ensure continued access to both Polar regions and support the country's economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs.