Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea returns from Bering Sea Ecosystem Science Cruise

SEATTLE — The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea will return to its homeport here after a two-month deployment in the Bering Sea, Friday at 4 p.m.

The Polar Sea was deployed in support of the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, which is part of a six-year study supported by the Coast Guard, National Science Foundation and North Pacific Research Board.

During the patrol, a team of 25 scientists examined the impact of changing ice conditions on the food web structure in the Bering Sea. Changing ice conditions can influence the potential expansion of Bering Sea fisheries while shrinking Arctic Habitat 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,” said Dr. Lee Cooper of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, 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 zooplankton to diving sea ducks to walrus and even to bowhead whales,” said Cooper. “A number of which we had the chance to see.”

Cooper, who worked on the Polar Sea in 1999, noted some positive changes to the cutter.

“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,” said Cooper. “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, water samples and plankton. Other topics of research included studies of the distributions of birds and marine mammals, such as the world population of spectacled eiders that winters south of Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska.

The Polar Sea, which was built by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company here, was 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 6 feet of ice at a continuous speed of 3 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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