The U.S. Coast Guard and a crew of scientists journeyed to the North Pole — for only the second time in history.
The icebreaker ship Healy cut through the thick ice of the frozen Arctic Ocean to reach the top of the world at latitude 90 degrees north on Friday, Sept. 30, according to a news release. The 420-foot ship is the largest in the Coast Guard, and can break through four-and-a-half feet of ice at a speed of three knots, the release said.
While the excursion was exciting for the crew, it also served scientific and security purposes, the release said.
The cutter and crew, including scientists funded by the National Science Foundation, set out to gather research from “the furthest reaches of the northern latitudes” — where critical data is missing from the western Central Arctic, the release said.
One of the co-chief scientists onboard, Dr. Carin Ashjian, said the mission would produce “important science results” that could potentially be the first of its type collected from the region.
“We have little information from the ocean and seafloor at the top of the world, so what we collect here is very valuable,” she said in the release.
The ship’s presence in the Arctic “supported national security objectives” and patrolled the U.S. maritime border with Russia, according to the release.
Military patrols like Healy’s are happening more often as “incursions from Russian and Chinese vessels become more common in the circumpolar north,” according to Alaska’s News Source.
It left from Seattle on July 11, and currently has 34 scientists and technicians from “multiple universities and institutions aboard, and nearly 100 active duty crew members,” the release said.
It was the ship’s third time traveling to the North Pole since it was commissioned in 1999, but only its second time reaching it unaccompanied, the release said. The first time was in 2015.
Once they were done with their research, they were granted “ice liberty” and stepped out onto the ice to pose for pictures with a “North Pole” stuck in the ice.