Cutter Polar Star Efforts Expanding Remote Arctic Region Knowledge
by U.S. Coast Guard District 17
The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) arrived
in Juneau on February 12, 2021 for a logistics stop as the crew nears the end of
their months-long Arctic deployment conducting scientific research
and protecting the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security
throughout the polar region.
February 12, 2021 - U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star transits the Gastineau Channel to moor up in Juneau, Alaska. The Seattle-based vessel arrived in Juneau for a logistics stop as the crew neared the end of their months-long Arctic deployment conducting scientific research and protecting the nation's maritime sovereignty and security throughout the polar region. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Woods.)
In addition to Polar Star’s
strategic national security objectives, the nation’s sole heavy
icebreaker sailed north with scientists and researchers aboard to
work in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold
Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of
Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to gather
data and lessen the void of information from the region and better
understand how to operate year-round in Arctic waters.
Arctic is cold, dark, and difficult to navigate in the winter,” said
Capt. Bill Woityra, the Polar Star’s commanding officer. “Deploying
with researchers and scientists aboard has aided in the development,
understanding and pursuit of technologies that will mitigate risks
and enable future mission performance so that looking forward, the
Coast Guard can safely operate continually and effectively in this
Working aboard Polar Star, Shalane Regan, a
member of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC),
teamed up with Lt. Lydia Ames, a NOAA Corps officer to assist CRREL
researchers by deploying buoys onto the ice where they will, over
time, collect and transmit information about ice flow to help fill
in data gaps for higher latitude oceans.
The Polar Star crew
also aided in a research project concerning water flow regimes in
the Arctic, specifically the Chukchi Sea, a study developed by Dr.
Robert Pickart of WHOI. The data collected during Polar Star’s
patrol will be used to develop a more complete understanding of the
hydrology of the dynamic region.
To support Dr. Pickart’s
research, WHOI provided 120 Expendable Conductivity-Temperature-
Depth (XCTD) instruments to measure temperature and salinity. These
profiles of the water column will give a better picture of what
water and nutrient flow look like in the Arctic winter. Polar Star
crew members deployed the probes every 12 hours when above 65
Additionally, Regan, who is a mechanical
engineer and researcher with the RDC Surface Branch, worked with
other scientists and researchers on board to find ways to operate
most effectively in the frigid Arctic environment.
technology, Regan brought a 3D printer and Remotely Operated Vehicle
aboard Polar Star to evaluate how the systems would react to the
Arctic climate and ship life.
“I used the 3D printer to
complete many small projects that resulted in large lifestyle
improvements for the crew,” said Regan. “Most importantly, the
knowledge I was able to gather about larger issues the crew faces,
for example, visibility issues due to frost accumulation on the
bridge windows, I can take home for my team to develop solutions
that will create a better-equipped, mission-ready fleet.”
Another big item the RDC team is focusing on is underway
connectivity, specifically in the Arctic region.
understand high latitude communications, The Mobile User Objective
System (MUOS) was installed on Polar Star to test its abilities at
high latitudes in the harsh Arctic winter conditions. Developed for
the U.S. Navy by Lockheed Martin, the MUOS is an ultra-high
frequency satellite communications system that provides secure
connections for mobile forces.
“Looking towards the future, all signs point toward the Coast
Guard deploying more platforms to the Arctic, more often and during
different seasons of the year,” said Woityra. “The Coast Guard is
robustly proficient at summer-time Arctic operations, while winter
presents an entirely new set of challenges. Polar Star’s winter
Arctic deployment has served to better understand and prepare for
the challenges of operating in such a harsh and unforgiving
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