Ice-breaking ship gets fired up
Ice-breaking ship gets fired up In this Monday, Dec. 12, 2016 photo, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star rests by a dock in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The only U.S. ship capable of breaking through Antarctica’s thick ice is undergoing repairs in balmy Hawaii this week as it prepares to head south. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)
Ice-breaking ship gets fired up
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The only U.S. ship capable of breaking through Antarctica's thick ice is getting scrubbed down, fixed up and loaded with goods in balmy Hawaii as it prepares to head to the frigid south.
The voyage by Coast Guard cutter Polar Star comes as the U.S. looks to replace and expand its aging fleet of polar icebreakers so it can maintain a presence in the most remote corners of the world. The demand for icebreaking ships is expected to grow as climate change melts sea ice and lures more traffic to northern Arctic waters.
"The specter in the future is more marine use in the Arctic, more shipping, more offshore development, more tourism," said Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The Coast Guard needs to be able to enforce U.S. laws as well as search for and rescue people in the Arctic like it does in other waters, Brigham said. Though sea ice is melting faster than before, the Arctic Ocean is fully or partially covered by ice for about three-quarters of the year.
Now, the Seattle-based ship has stopped in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to stock up on food and fuel. It was scheduled to leave Dec. 19 to carve a channel through 30 miles of ice in Antarctica so ships can resupply a U.S. research center, but it was delayed by last-minute repairs.
The Polar Star specializes in the Antarctic mission because it can handle the thicker ice, leaving the jobs in the Arctic to a medium icebreaker called the cutter Healy.
The 40-year-old Polar Star was built to last only three decades of grinding through thick sheets of ice. It forces its way through by riding up on ice and crushing it. When it can't break through, it backs up and rams the ice.
Brigham said policymakers have debated boosting the icebreaker fleet for decades. Climate change adds a new element to the discussion.
More cargo ships have been taking Arctic routes as the planet warms. Last summer, a luxury cruise liner sailed to Nome, Alaska, then farther north to become the largest ship to ever traverse the Northwest Passage. Melting ice also will attract those seeking to extract oil, metals and other natural resources.
The U.S. should be present in the northern and southern reaches of the planet as a global power, Brigham said.
Russia has 40 icebreakers but owns more than half of the Arctic Ocean coastline and operates over a much larger stretch of icy seas. Russia's fleet is primarily used to escort commercial ships, while Coast Guard icebreakers only do so in emergencies, Brigham said.
Coast Guard Capt. Michael Davanzo, the Polar Star's commanding officer, told reporters that the agency needs additional icebreakers partly in case something goes wrong.
"If we go down there on this trip and we run into problems, there's nobody down there who can come and help us," he said.
The Coast Guard has only one other heavy icebreaker, the Polar Sea, that also was built in the 1970s and isn't operational. The agency is using some of its parts to keep the Polar Star running.
The Coast Guard has said it needs three total heavy icebreakers, which can bust through ice 6 feet thick. It also wants three other icebreakers that can break slightly thinner ice, like the Healy.
On the Polar Star's upcoming journey to Antarctica, 14 months' worth of food will be aboard for the crew in case the ship gets stuck and it needs to wait until next year's thaw to get out.
If that happens, some of the crew would be flown off the ship, while others would stay behind until the vessel is able to break its way out or get a tow when the weather warms.

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How can climate change impact tourism?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • irisp-ste
    1/03/2017 - 08:53 a.m.

    The climate change can make tourist spots increase or decrease in travelers. In colder areas, the appealing locations can be a main reason people visit. If the temperature increase and cause natural ice sculptures to melt, tourism may decrease.

  • zakrym-ste
    1/03/2017 - 01:24 p.m.

    this ship is getting fixed up to head down to the south. it is very cool that it is the only u.s ship that break through the ice. they should make more ships like this

  • kaileew-ste
    1/05/2017 - 09:06 p.m.

    This ship was only supposed to stand up to three decades, but it has lasted more than 40 years. This is the only U.S ship capable of breaking through ice. This is really cool and I hope they keep something to remember it by whenever it finally is finished.

  • noahr-ste
    1/06/2017 - 09:42 a.m.

    They need to definitely make more ships like this. It will help with the ice bu this can be a bad thing because is actually important and a natural way earth stays in a cycle to make everything okay.

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