“A Break in the Silence: Anecdote from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker’s winter Arctic patrol” –News Release

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, January 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.US Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

A PACAREA news release. Apparently operating in the Arctic in the Winter still holds some surprises. Nice photos too.

united states coast guard

Feature Release

Jan. 29, 2021
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3375
After Hours: (510) 816-1700
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

A Break in the Silence: Anecdote from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker’s winter Arctic patrol

Co-written by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham & Petty Officer 2nd Class Tedd Meinersmann

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021 Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021
Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic West Winter 2021 Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021 Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic West Winter 2021

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

On a months-long winter mission to project U.S. presence and sovereignty into the Arctic, and to conduct scientific research in the remote area, the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, the nation’s sole heavy icebreaker, is using its one-of-a-kind capability to navigate the dark polar wilderness.

After departing Seattle, crossing the Gulf of Alaska and transiting the Bering Sea’s treacherous waters, where 20-foot swells mercilessly tossed the mighty Coast Guard ship, the resilient crew traversed the Arctic Circle into equally windy, but far calmer, ice-bound waters.

After a few dark days and nights of the Polar Star methodically backing and ramming northbound through the Chukchi Sea’s heavy blanket of sea ice, crewmembers started to chatter about something keeping them up at night.

The polar sailors, many who sleep in staterooms on a lower deck of the ship, were taking collective notice of a persistently clamorous sound.

Though the crew who serves aboard Polar Star are not strangers to ice-serenaded work and slumber, this Arctic patrol was audibly different than prior, more routine icebreaking deployments to the opposite end of the world.  

Polar Star annually travels to world’s southernmost continent in support of Operation Deep Freeze where skilled ice pilots drive the powerful ship through ice up to 21-feet thick. The icebreaking mission opens critical navigation channels for other ships allowing for essential supplies to be delivered to scientists conducting research at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

When, earlier in 2020, Operation Deep Freeze was cancelled due to COVID-19 safety concerns at the station, the Polar Star crew instead headed north on the Chukchi Sea – farther north than any U.S. surface ship ever travelled in the winter – in support of the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy.

Navigating one of the world’s most northern frozen oceans presented the Polar Star crew an auditory experience far different than its southern sister ice. No two crewmembers describe the omnipresent sound of patrolling the Chukchi Sea similarly and creative metaphors for labeling the noise quickly became an amusing way for the crew to make light of the often palpable noise.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic West Winter 2021

Like screeches and bangs from a perpetual car crash, a blaring elephant, freight train, or driving through concrete, freshly broken Arctic sea ice, scraping alongside the Polar Star’s hull, holds the likeness of screaming. It was a mysterious conundrum leaving many of the crew wide-eyed and wondering “why is this Arctic ice so loud?”

Fortunately, the Polar Star deployed north with a handful of scientists and researchers to advise the command and collect Arctic data in an effort to lessen the void of information available from the region. Evan Neuwirth, an ice analyst from the U.S. National Ice Center in Washington, D.C., is aboard Polar Star and proposed a theory about why navigating through Arctic ice is so noisy.

Neuwirth said temperature may be the greatest factor contributing to the sound heard while icebreaking. Sea ice in the winter is generally more dense, cold and brittle than in the summer. When winter Arctic ice strikes or rubs alongside the Polar Star’s exterior, more of the impact energy is transferred to the hull which results in a louder noise. Ice the crew experiences on their southern summer patrols is warmer and softer, making it more likely to compress and crush on impact with Polar Star – resulting in the absorption of energy that would otherwise result in a lot of noise.  

To best understand his theory, Neuwirth said to think of what it would sound like to throw a snowball at the ship’s hull versus a solid chunk of ice.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star Arctic Winter West 2021

The winter Arctic air and ice is so cold, often well below zero with the wind temperature factored in, that even after being broken into pieces, the ice chunks remain rock-hard creating the notorious noise made in the process that has, for the most part, been accepted by the crew as part of their unique, historic polar experience.

By experiencing and operating in one of the world’s most remote and harsh environments, the Polar Star crew is gaining critical familiarity of the Arctic necessary to develop and train future polar sailors and advance U.S. interests and power in the region.

As the Polar Star’s understanding of the Arctic grows by the day, one thing the crew knows for sure is that patrolling the frozen winter world above the Arctic Circle is desolate, dark and serene, but from aboard the Coast Guard Polar Star – it’s far from silent.

1 thought on ““A Break in the Silence: Anecdote from a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker’s winter Arctic patrol” –News Release

  1. Someone once asked me what it sounds like icebreaking? The best description I could come up with was to imagine being inside a dumpster that was being attacked by 100 screaming monkeys with baseball bats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s