Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea makes Kodiak port call following two-month Bering Sea science cruise

KODIAK, Alaska – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, the nation’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker, arrived in Kodiak Wednesday on their return to Seattle from a two-month deployment in support of the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study.

The BEST spring scientific cruise was part of the six-year study of the Bering Sea ecosystem supported by the National Science Foundation and the North Pacific Research Board centrally focused on examining the impacts of changing ice conditions on food web structure.

Changing ice conditions may possibly influence the potential expansion of Bering Sea fisheries further north as well as to shrink Arctic habitat currently available on the shallow continental shelf.

“This was the third in a three-year series of early spring cruises to the northern Bering Sea to study how the ecosystem sets up for the productive spring bloom,” stated Dr. Lee Cooper of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, who served as the chief scientist for the research effort. “We also are gaining an appreciation for how important this period is for the dynamics of feeding for a wide variety of organisms, from zoo plankton to diving sea ducks to walrus and even to bowhead whales, a number of which we had the chance to see.”

Cooper added that he had last worked aboard Polar Sea in 1999, and “I am pleased at how well the Coast Guard has made adjustments in making the vessel even more suitable for a challenging science mission in heavy ice at very cold temperatures. I think everyone is getting off the ship very pleased with the volume of samples, data, and additional understanding that has been achieved with the help of the crew and officers of the ship.”

Data and samples collected were comprised of sea floor sediments, sea ice and water samples, and plankton. Other topics of research included studies of the distributions of birds and marine mammals, including the world population of spectacled eiders that winters south of Saint Lawrence Island.

The scientists will disembark in Kodiak and return to their respective areas of study.

The Polar Sea was built by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company in Seattle. Commissioned in 1978, the Polar Sea has operated around the globe and is designed to perform science, icebreaking, and all Coast Guard missions in both Polar Regions. With a reinforced hull and up to 75,000 horsepower, the cutter can break up to 21 feet of ice, or six feet of ice at a continuous speed of three knots. The ship’s icebreaking capabilities allow the crew to perform logistics, search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection, and enforcement of laws and treaties in places most ships cannot reach.

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