Coast Guard Cutter Healy continues scientific mission

Coast Guard Alaska NewsBARROW, Alaska — The Coast Guard Cutter Healy recently began the second of three summer science Arctic missions off the coast of Barrow, Alaska Aug. 27, by exchanging personnel, equipment and provisions during a two-day period.

On Aug. 25 and 26 Healy exchanged nearly 100 personnel and thousands of pounds of science equipment and provisions via commercial helicopter in the northernmost American city on the continent. After 15 hours of flight operations, the cutter weighed anchor and steamed north to frozen waters of the Arctic Ocean.

As part of the Chukchi Sea Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area (COMIDA) project, Healy’s first science mission was a multi‐disciplinary investigation to examine the biological, chemical and physical properties of Hanna Shoal.

Since departing Dutch Harbor, Alaska, August 9 with 38 scientists aboard, Healy has travelled more than 2,330 miles and conducted 472 individual science casts in the vicinity of Hanna Shoal in the Chukchi Sea. More than 90 miles northwest of Barrow, and within 50 miles of the Shell exploratory drill sites, the shallow depths of Hanna Shoal (40-50 meters) contain unusually high standing stocks of biota due to its location at the confluence of Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea currents. The timing of this mission was important in order to create a baseline of data prior to extensive energy development in the region.

The focus of the second mission of Arctic West Summer 2012 is to collect mapping and geologic data necessary to delimit the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf. This is the seventh time the Healy has participated in this mission. In previous cruises, scientists have demonstrated that the foot of the continental slope, which is a key parameter in determining the extent of the continental shelf, extends well north of the Chukchi Cap into Nautilus Basin towards the Alpha/Mendeleev Ridge. The exact location of the foot of the slope in this region remains unknown and is the focus of this mission. Seafloor bathymetry will be measured with a multi-beam echo-sounder, supplemented with seafloor samples taken by dredge. Water column properties will be measured and ancillary programs include weather and ice observations, deployment of ice buoys and ice studies, geochemical measurements to study ocean acidification, and bird and mammal observations.

Healy was commissioned in 2000, and is the nation’s newest, largest and only operational U.S. polar icebreaker. The cutter is 420 feet long and has extensive scientific capabilities. Homeported in Seattle, the cutter has a permanent crew of 96 whose primary mission is scientific support. However, as a Coast Guard cutter, Healy is capable of other operations such as search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection, and the enforcement of laws and treaties in the Polar Regions.

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