World’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker to arrive in Juneau on Wednesday

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, the world’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker, will moor at the South Franklin Pier in Juneau Wednesday and is scheduled to open for public tours Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Polar Sea is returning to its homeport in Seattle after completing a 101 day deployment, 60 which were above the Arctic Circle. Although the crew of the Polar Sea has conducted multiple patrols in the Arctic, this would mark the cutter’s first science deployment in more than a decade concluding the cutter’s Arctic West Fall 2009 deployments.

The first phase took place over the course of two weeks in mid-September and involved 34 scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory led by Dr. Richard Coffin. The scientists met the cutter off Barrow, Alaska and conducted coring operations to study sediment composition. They were also involved in taking water samples to study temperature, salinity and levels of oxygen at varying depths.

The second phase ran from Sept. 26 through Nov. 1. The main focus was the recapture of polar bears that were tagged with radio collars in the spring. Dr. Mirav Ben David and 24 scientists from various organizations traveled with the Polar Sea throughout the Arctic searching for polar bears. This study has already yielded unique data which correlates the theory that polar bears travel distances up to 600 miles. Considering the retreating ice edge this study is intended to shed new light on the polar bears’ ability to adapt to their ever changing environment considering the retreating ice edge.

Included in this science phase was a team of research divers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks who conducted 38 research dives for the purpose of investigating the biological diversity of Arctic Sea ridges in comparison to flat sea ice. Dive operations and ice coring were the main methods utilized to retrieve organisms, ice and water from submerged sea ridges. Also aboard was a marine mammal and sea bird observer from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who studied marine mammal and sea bird distribution relative to oceanographic and biological features in the Beaufort Sea.


The 399-foot Polar Sea was built by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company in Seattle. Commissioned in 1978 the Polar Sea has operated around the world and is designed to perform science, ice-breaking 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 4.5 mph and can carry two helicopters for science and logistics support. Berthing is available for approximately 150 crewmembers and as many as 35 scientists and technicians. The cutter is also equipped as a scientific platform with five internal laboratories and space for an additional seven portable laboratories on deck. Computers on board have the capability to process real-time satellite images to aid in ice navigation, science planning and weather forecasting. The ship’s ice breaking 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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